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Sneezing is a natural response to irritation in a person’s nasal cavity. Sneezing can also be triggered by eating food. It may be that all foods or specific foods cause a person to sneeze.
Sneezing is often the result of inhaling something that irritates the nose, but it can also be caused by breathing in cold air, looking into bright lights, plucking eyebrow hair, or eating food.
In this article, we look specifically at the causes for sneezing while eating, and how to prevent this from happening.
There are several possible causes for a person to sneeze after meals. These include:
Gustatory rhinitis is a condition that specifically causes a person to sneeze after eating. Rhinitis is a general term for irritation or swelling that happens in the nose.
Gustatory rhinitis is not related to allergies, so it is known as nonallergic rhinitis. It happens when the nasal nerves are hypersensitive to environmental triggers.
Symptoms of gustatory rhinitis usually come on within minutes of eating and can include:
- a runny nose
- nasal congestion or stuffiness
Gustatory rhinitis is especially common after eating spicy or hot foods including:
- hot peppers
- hot soups
According to an article in the journal Current Opinions in Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery, there are special receptors in the lining of the nose that detect capsaicin, a compound found in chili peppers. When these fibers detect the presence of capsaicin, they can trigger one or more sneezes.
A person can prevent these symptoms by avoiding trigger foods. They may wish to keep a food and symptom diary to find out what foods cause their gustatory rhinitis.
Some people may sneeze after eating a large meal. This is known as the snatiation reflex, which is a combination of the words ‘sneeze’ and ‘satiation.’
A person experiences this reflex when their stomach is full and becomes stretched. This may result in one sneeze or a sneezing fit. The cause is unknown, but there may be a genetic component.
Sometimes when a person eats foods they are especially sensitive or allergic to, they can sneeze. Other symptoms may include itchy eyes or a mild skin rash.
In severe instances, a person may have a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis that causes extreme swelling and difficulty breathing. Some of the most common foods that can trigger allergies are milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, and tree nuts.
A cold or flu
Also, sometimes a person may have a cold or other illness that can cause them to sneeze after eating. The two occurrences – eating and sneezing – may seem related but are separate.
A person cannot always prevent sneezing after eating from occurring. However, there are some tips to try that may reduce sneezing. These include:
- Holding one’s breath while counting to 10, or as long as a person can comfortably hold their breath. This helps to inhibit the sneezing reflex.
- Pinching the bridge of the nose to keep the sneeze from occurring. This has a similar effect as someone holding their breath.
- Avoiding foods known to cause sneezing or foods that a person is allergic to. If a person is unsure which foods trigger this response, a doctor may recommend keeping a food diary or doing an elimination diet.
- Eating smaller meals throughout the day instead of several large ones, as large meals can trigger the snatiation reflex.
- Taking over-the-counter (OTC) decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine, to reduce any nasal swelling or sensitivity that could cause sneezing after eating. Commercial decongestants can be found online.
- OTC antihistamine nasal sprays may also help to reduce the incidence of sneezing after eating. These sprays block the release of histamines, which are inflammatory compounds that can cause sneezing. Antihistamine sprays can be purchased online.
Sneezing after eating is rarely cause for medical concern, but can be annoying, distracting, and irritating at times. It can also cause droplets to spread in the air, which risks the spread of viruses and bacteria, so a person may wish to reduce the likelihood they will sneeze after eating.
Currently, there is no cure for gustatory rhinitis or snatiation. In many cases, a person can prevent this reflex by steering clear of certain foods or avoiding eating large meals.
If a person thinks they may have a food allergy that is contributing to their sneezing, they can talk to their doctor about allergy testing or other interventions based on their overall health.