Your friend isn’t just making it up. If you know someone (including yourself) who claims to be somehow allergic to the sun, there’s an actual genetic phenomenon that might explain why this is the case. If someone has an uncontrollable urge to sneeze when they are exposed to the sun, they’re probably not some sort of mythical vampire beast. Instead, they’re probably one of the 18-35% of people in the United States with this peculiar condition: the photic sneeze reflex.
The photic sneeze reflex, otherwise known as photoptarmosis or facetiously as ACHOO (autosomal dominant compelling helio-ophthalmic outburst syndrome) is the condition behind the inability to control sneezing in response to certain stimuli. For instance, if you’re afflicted with ACHOO, you probably sneeze multiple times after watching a long movie in a theater and then emerging suddenly into bright light. Other stimuli can cause the same reaction, but for the most part the photic sneeze reflex presents itself when you spend time in the dark and are then quickly exposed to light.
Blame Your Parents
Photoptarmosis is understood to be a genetic tendency, so you’re free to blame your parents on this one. Your parents, however, weren’t unique in their sun sneezes. Sun sneezes have been recorded all the way back to Aristotle’s time by- get this- Aristotle himself. Don’t worry. The photic sneeze reflex is harmless outside of being irritating and, since it is often found in families, you won’t be alone with it.
The sun sneeze is still relatively unexplored by scientists. Many think that the reflex has to do with the nervous system and a confusion of signals, but even the genetic aspect of the condition is not well understood. Because of photoptarmosis’ benign nature there hasn’t been a lot of attention paid to it, although some studies have shown that the use of antihistamines used to treat rhinitis can potentially alleviate the symptoms.
You’re probably better off if you just endure. If you suffer from sun sneezes, aka the photic sneeze reflex or photoptarmosis, the condition is probably not really doing anything to you. And, the next time someone makes fun of you for claiming you’re allergic to the sun, now you have a scientific reason why. ACHOO will take the blame.