Sneezing after meals

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DEAR DR. GOTT: Most of the time after eating a meal, especially if I maybe eat a little too much, I get the sneezes. They start before I can get up from the table and continue for up to 10 sneezes. Is this something I should worry about or is it normal in some people and no cause for alarm?

DEAR READER: The act of sneezing is generally caused by dust or smoke that acts as an irritant, by allergies, the use of nasal sprays, and several other situations. It is generally not indicative of an underlying medical condition but it can be related to the foods you eat. A condition known as gustatory rhinitis can cause sneezing, a runny nose, or congestion that can be triggered by any type of food but occurs primarily following the ingestion of hot, spicy dishes or alcohol. Cold foods can also cause the reaction, as they have the capability of activating a nervous system reaction.

Then, there is a condition known as snatiation, a disorder characterized by bursts of sneezing immediately following a large meal and provoked by the fullness of a person’s stomach. This is believed to be an autosomal dominant, hereditary trait. Eating a large meal distends the stomach and triggers the annoying process. While the word snatiation may not be in your dictionary, it is said to be a backronym created from the words “sneeze” and “satiation”. It actually stands for Sneezing Non-controllably At a Time of Indulgence of the Appetite” And while you may now be headed for the dictionary on your computer or that big book on the shelf, a backronym (according to is: “(Backward acronym) A word which has been turned into an acronym by inventing an expansion, rather than the other way around.”

There are a number of other sneeze reflexes, such as occurs when looking at bright lights. This particular phenomenon affects up to 35% of the population and while it may appear rather common, the exact mechanism of the action is poorly understood. The likely cause of the uncontrollable process is a congenital malfunction of signals in the trigeminal nerve nuclei. As a point of information, the fifth cranial nerve known as the trigeminal nerve is responsible for the act of sneezing. When looking at a bright light, for instance, the optic nerve triggers the trigeminal nerve, causing a sneeze reflex in some individuals.

In my opinion, and without knowing your complete medical history, I believe your answer is to try modifying your eating habits. Instead of eating three larger meals, consider four of five smaller ones throughout the day. Or, you may wish to cut back on the amount you consume simply by not filling your plate as much. In any event, take your time eating and be sure to stop before you experience that overly full feeling. You actually might find you tend to make better dietary choices, lose weight, and aren’t plagued by sneezes any longer.

Because I mention weight loss, readers who would like more information on weight control might choose to order my Health Report “A Strategy For Losing Weight. An Introduction to the No Flour, No Sugar Diet”. Simply send a self-addressed, stamped number 10 envelope and a $2 US check or money order to Dr. Peter Gott at PO Box 433, Lakeville, CT 06039. Be sure to mention the title when writing or print out an order form from my website

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