What is a sneeze?

In case you don’t already know … sneezing is the involuntary action of expelling unwanted foreign particles with air-powered mucus at over 100 kilometres an hour through the mouth and nose, as instructed by your brain stem that sends a signal via specific ‘sneeze’ nerves.

These so-called ‘sneeze nerves’ are far from perfect technology however.

Most of us can create a sneeze by plucking out one of our eyebrow hairs, and for some people all their brain needs to activate their sneeze control centre is an increase in light or temperature.

Did you know

Up to 35% of the population can find themselves sneezing uncontrollably due to a sudden burst of sunlight? This phenomena (known as PSR which stands for photic sneeze reflex) remains unexplained … though scientists have agreed on a detailed technical acronym for the condition that sufferers might prefer to use when describing their plight to an allergist – Autosomal-dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst syndrome. Or, in short, “A.C.H.O.O.”. True story.

What’s the quickest way to stop sneezing?

An antihistamine spray direct to the nose is the quickest treatment that you can use day after day without any risk of addiction or rebound. These new-generation non-addictive, non-drowsy formulations such as azelastine (“Azep” in Australia, “Astelin” and “Astepro” in the US, “Allergodil” in Europe and “Rhinolast” in the UK) start acting in 15 minutes 1.

The traditional and well-known antihistamine tablets travel via the gut with a systemic mode of action, which can take up to a couple of hours to start working.

Corticosteroids are used for effective long-term, ongoing relief, however you need to start taking them some weeks before hayfever season as they do not commence acting straight away.

Aside from using medication, what are some physical ways to stop a sneeze?

Well, as mentioned above everyone’s nerve construction is different, but here are some of the ways in which some people are able to hold off a sneeze:

  • Blowing the nose
  • Strongly expelling air from the lungs
  • Breathing through a wet cloth or tissue
  • Holding one’s breath and counting to ten
  • Wetting the inside of the nostrils with water
  • Pinching the upper lip between the thumb and forefinger
  • Clenching the teeth whilst pressing the tongue hard against the back of the front teeth
  • Squeezing the end of the nose between the thumb and forefinger and pulling the nose forward away from the face a little.

Did you know

Some people suffer from “snatiation” which compels you to sneeze when you have a full stomach. And once again academia appears to have some humour in mind in naming this official disorder with a backronym. Snatiation stands for Sneezing Non-controllably At a Time of Indulgence of the Appetite – a Trait Inherited and Ordained to be Named.


What’s the best way to stop a runny nose?

The best way is to get your hayfever under control with the most appropriate medication, diet and lifestyle/habits.

For immediate relief, some people find rinsing the nose with the use of a store bought saline solution helpful.

A saline nasal spray might also prove effective at cleaning and clearing out some of the foreign particles that are causing the excess mucus production.

Pressing your forefinger firmly above the top lip just under the nose may help improve a runny nose for some people, depending on the underlying cause.

Most importantly be aware of your surroundings and what you are putting into your body. Some foods could be making your hayfever worse. Alcohol is almost always a bad idea, as all alcoholic drinks are loaded with histamine.

Even though they don’t normally set you off, things like cigarette smoke, latex, and even some detergents or bleaches can make your runny nose worse when you have hayfever.

Is sniffing bad for my hayfever?

Sniffing constantly is not only something that reduces one’s popularity with friends and colleagues, but it keeps pollen and particulate matter inside the nose where you don’t want them.

Blowing the nose is better than sniffing, see the sneeze relief tips above, and most importantly always have some hypo-allergenic tissues handy.

Is there a correct way to use a nasal spray device?

There is certainly a right and wrong way to sniff nasal sprays. The worse thing you can do is spray the mist onto your septum (the central divide between the nostrils) as this can be the cause of irritation and unwanted side-effects.

Funnily enough, it is sniffing that is recommended while you are trying to keep hayfever spray medicine in your nose – gently inhaling the mist back up into the nose as it tries to trickle out, but not sniffing too hard and sending the liquid over the top of your nose and into your throat.

The image shows an easy-to-remember method widely held as ideal …

… and see here for more info on correct nasal spray usage.

The most important tip is not to sniff the mist too hard, as it will go into your throat which reduces effectiveness and can lead to a slightly bitter taste for a few minutes.

Sniffing should not involve sending mucus up and over the nose and down into the throat at any time, so a good nasal spray technique is not only good for hayfever relief, but a good way to change one’s sniffing habits for the better.


  1. Azep Nasal Spray Product Information, MEDA Pharmaceuticals, January 2014