A few months ago, a surgeon and a psychiatrist wrote an article for the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine on cases of sneezing triggered by sexual thoughts and orgasm. The subsequent media coverage meant that the authors were contacted by members of the public who experienced similarly unusual sneezing triggers.
The researchers have written a fascinating follow-up letter to the same journal of summarise the reaction they got from their article, and the new cases they’ve discovered.
We surmised that sneezing induced by sexual ideation or orgasm may be under-reported. Subsequent media coverage has lead to many more members of the public stating that they also have this condition. Reports have been on the JRSM website, on internet-based media fora or by unsolicited contact with the lead author. In total the number of people we found reporting sneezing induced by sexual ideation through these disparate methods is 146 (which includes seven doctors), with a further seven reporting sneezing induced by orgasm.
These triggers of sneezing appear to be mutually exclusive; people report either sneezing upon sexual ideation or sneezing upon orgasm. Of those reporting sneezing upon sexual ideation 112 (77%) were men, as were all seven of those reporting sneezing with orgasm, but the gender disproportion may represent sexual bias in the reporting rather than the prevalence of these conditions. Nevertheless, these figures do show that these conditions are not infrequent, and imply that perhaps thousands of people in the UK are affected; many stated that they had never discussed this phenomenon and were relieved to hear that they were not alone.
We also wish to report that two people contacted us to state that several members of their family sneeze on a full stomach; this now doubles the number of families in the medical literature reported to have this as a trigger of sneezing. Interestingly, two of the people who reported sneezing on sexual ideation also admitted to a family history. One lady reported that her brother had the same phenomenon. A man reported that both his brothers and his father also had this. This implies, as we suggested in our original article, that all the unusual triggers of sneezing ‚Äì light, full stomach, sexual ideation or orgasm ‚Äì may be inherited in an autosomal dominant manner.
That last sentence is interesting, because a confirmed autosomal dominant pattern of inheritance means that it is likely to be due to changes in a single gene.
This doesn’t mean a single gene has evolved to trigger or prevent sneezing when people have sexual thoughts – this would likely be a ‘side-effect’ some other useful function.
Interestingly, sneezing in response to sunlight is known to be inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern.
Consequently, it has been given the name Autosomal dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst syndrome, or the ACHOO syndrome.