Sometimes people may have the urge to sneeze but cannot do so. This inability to sneeze can be annoying, especially if there is an irritant in the nose or the person is congested.

Sneezing or sternutation is an involuntary release of air from the nose. It is the body’s way of getting irritants out of the nasal passages. Allergens, viruses, other irritants, and trauma to the nose can cause sneezing. Sneezes are typically powerful and can occur suddenly.

It is also possible to stimulate the body to sneeze. This article suggests 13 ways to sneeze on demand.

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When irritants and other foreign bodies enter the nose, they become trapped in mucus in the nasal passages. These particles then travel to the stomach, where the stomach acid neutralizes them.

In some cases, these particles can irritate the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. This irritation can stimulate the trigeminal nerve, a large cranial nerve important for movement and sensation in the face.

The trigeminal nerve has three different branches, with each serving a different area of the face. When an irritant stimulates the trigeminal nerve, it sends a message to the brain to trigger the body to sneeze.

This is when the respiratory system becomes involved. A person’s eyes close, then they inhale deeply, and sneeze.

The following tips to induce sneezing work by activating the nerves that trigger the body to sneeze.

1. Use a tissue

The trigeminal nerve can respond to many types of stimulation, including chemical, thermal, and mechanical. This tip falls into the last category.

Roll the corner of a tissue into a point and place it in one nostril. Gently move the tissue back and forth until feeling a tickling sensation. This action stimulates the trigeminal nerve.

It is essential to take care when using this technique — do not insert the tissue too far up the nostril as it may cause pain or become stuck.

2. Tickle the nose

Some people can induce sneezes by simply brushing underneath the nose to create a tickling sensation.

While popular media often portray feathers as a good means of tickling, people should not use real feathers for this endeavor. This is because repeated exposure to feather dust can cause breathing problems in some people.

3. Look at the light

Some people sneeze just by looking at a bright light. Researchers estimate that up to a third of the population have this form of reflexive sneezing, which is known as photic sneeze reflex (PSR) or ACHOO (autosomal dominant compulsive helio-ophthalmic outbursts of sneezing).

There are several ideas as to why this happens in some people. First, the trigeminal nerve is beside the optic nerve. As such, it is possible that stimulation of the optic nerve could also lead to stimulation of the trigeminal nerve.

Second, the middle (maxillary) part of the trigeminal nerve, which is associated with the nasal cavity, may be more sensitive to light than the upper (ophthalmic) part, which is associated with the eyes.

Photic sneezing is hereditary, which means it runs in families. It is also a dominant trait, meaning that if one parent is affected, their child has a 50% chance of having the reflex.

Those who wish to try this should look at a bright light suddenly. However, never look directly at the sun, as this can cause damage to the eyes.

4. Sniff strong perfume

Some scents, such as strong perfumes and colognes, can cause people to sneeze. A 2019 study estimated that 32.2% of adults have some degree of sensitivity to fragranced products.

To try this, spray a strong fragrance in the air to irritate the nasal lining. Do not inhale the perfume particles directly, and never spray the fragrance directly into the nostril.

5. Tweeze a nostril hair

Pricking sensations can also lead to stimulation of the trigeminal nerve. Because of this, plucking out a single nostril hair may cause a sneeze. People must be gentle though, as the skin in the nostrils is extremely sensitive.

6. Eat dark chocolate

Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa may lead to sneezing. The exact reason for this occurrence is unknown, but scientists do not think it has anything to do with allergies. Some consider it to be a type of PSR.

While this tip certainly won’t work for everyone, it does work for some — particularly those who do not regularly eat chocolate.

7. Tilt the head back

This technique may benefit those who feel a sneeze coming on, but it does not quite materialize. People can simply lean their head back and look upward.

8. Smell spices

Black pepper and other spices — such as cumin, coriander, and crushed red pepper — are known nasal irritants. A compound in both black and white pepper contains piperine, which irritates the mucous membranes.

Likewise, capsaicin — a natural component of hot peppers — can also cause a sneezing reaction.

Try opening a jar of spices and taking a gentle sniff, or grind up some whole peppercorns to induce a sneeze. Cooking spicy food or inhaling some capsaicin extract from a bottle may also work. Take care when smelling spices, as inhaling too much can lead to a burning sensation in the nostrils.

9. Pluck an eyebrow hair

The upper (ophthalmic) branch of the trigeminal nerve enervates the area above the eyes. As such, plucking the brows can irritate the facial nerves, which may stimulate the trigeminal nerve. Some people sneeze after plucking a single hair, while others need to tweeze a few.

10. Use the tip of the tongue

The middle (maxillary) branch of the trigeminal nerve runs below the eyes and above the mouth. As such, try to lightly run the tip of the tongue up and down the roof of the mouth.

A person may have to experiment regarding the best place to massage, the level of pressure to apply, and the amount of time taken to induce a sneeze.

11. Massage the nose

Pinching sensations can also stimulate the trigeminal nerve. To do this, gently rub the bridge of the nose in a downward motion to get a response from the trigeminal nerve.

Some people may get results from lightly pinching the nose. Again, experiment with the technique until a tickling sensation and a sneeze occur.

12. Get some cold air

As mentioned earlier, the trigeminal nerve can respond to temperature, so cold air on the face can trigger the sneeze reflex. Go to a cold area and take in some deep breaths of cool air. If it is not cold outside, turn up the air conditioning or open the freezer and breathe in the cold air.

13. Have a carbonated drink

A receptor on the tongue, known as the TRPA1 receptor, is activated by the carbon dioxide in fizzy drinks. When several receptors are stimulated, the body increases saliva and triggers a cough or sneeze.

Inhaling the bubbles also works because the nose is more sensitive than the tongue to carbon dioxide.

Sometimes, it may be necessary to trigger sneezing. While there are many methods to do this, not all methods will work for everyone. This is because people respond differently to irritants and have different levels of sensitivity to stimulation of the trigeminal nerve.

Also, some techniques may work better than others for people with a cold or flu. Because they may have a lot of mucus in the nose which can trap irritants, people with nasal congestion may find it better to stimulate the trigeminal nerve manually rather than inhaling irritants.

Remember, always be gentle when inhaling irritants and stimulating the nasal nerves. Never insert anything hard or sharp into the nose.