When you feel a sneeze coming, you build up all this anticipation: you stop talking, the crook of your elbow is raised and at the ready, you have a tissue on hand, and then…nothing. The sneeze is stuck up there.
What can you do to force it out? When you really need to clear your nasal passage and get rid of that annoying prickling sensation, it’s possible to trick your body into sneezing. The secret is doing what you can to trigger the trigeminal nerve (more on that below). Here are some tricks that are worth a try for the next time you need to reclaim the sneeze that you deserve.
Stick a tissue up your nose
The goal here is to stimulate the trigeminal nerve, which sends a message to your brain that it’s high time for sneezing. To do it, roll one side of a tissue into a point. Then, carefully put the pointed tip toward the back of one nostril and wiggle it around a bit until you feel a slight tickling sensation. Make sure you’re using a light touch and not sticking the tissue too far up into your nostril. Generally, sticking things too far up your nose is what many experts call “not great.”
Tweeze a nostril hair
Another way to stimulate the trigeminal nerve is to pluck a nearby nostril hair. (It was probably time for a trimming anyways, right?) Be gentle with your tweezing, since the area inside your nostrils is sensitive.
If tweezing a nostril hair doesn’t get the job done, try plucking eyebrow hairs one at a time. This isn’t a beauty suggestion–again, the plucking is all about trying to stimulate the trigeminal nerve.
Tickle under your nose
If you don’t want to stick a tissue up your nose, simply tickling beneath your nostrils might be enough. For optimal tickling, try to get your hands on a fake feather.
Look at a bright light if you have the photic sneeze reflex
Have you ever sneezed from looking at the sun? If so, you might have the photic sneeze reflex (PSR). Unfortunately, this trick won’t work for everyone, because photic sneezing is hereditary—if one parent is affected, their child has a 50 percent chance of also having the reflex.
If you you’re a photic sneezer, try to trigger it by looking at a bright light suddenly. Just make sue you’re not staring directly into the sun, which can seriously damage your eyes.
Massage your nose
Again, this is all about getting a response from that notorious trigeminal nerve. Use your hands to gently rub the bridge of your nose, pushing in a downward motion or pinching slightly. Experiment with whatever motion starts to get that tickling sensation. While you’re here, consider this technique to help clear your sinuses.
Use the roof of your mouth
The trigeminal nerve runs along the roof of your mouth, so you can use your tongue to try and coax the nerve into sending that coveted sneezing signal to your brain. Experiment with running the tip of your tongue lightly up and down the roof of your mouth.
Sniff something strong
Some people are naturally sensitive to fragrances, so smelling a particularly potent perfume could be enough to get the job done. Another idea is to give your spice cabinet a gentle sniff. Certain compounds in common spices can irritate your mucous membranes, like piperine in black pepper, or capsaicin in hot peppers. Be careful not to inhale anything directly, of course.
Have a fizzy drink
As refreshing as your soda may be, your brain may perceive carbonation as a form of light pain. In response to certain pain receptors on your tongue getting triggered, some people may sneeze. And if this doesn’t work, at least you enjoyed a nice beverage.
If nothing else is working: Have some chocolate?
Across my research, it seems that some people sneeze from dark chocolate. Some scientists believe this is a similar reaction as a photic sneeze reflex. It’s worth a shot.
Don’t be discouraged if none of these methods work for you right away. There are a lot of variables at play, such as your sensitivity to irritants or your level of congestion at the time. Remember to always exercise caution when it comes to inhaling substances or sticking things up or around your nose. Oh, and if your sneeze is already en route–try tilting your head back to make sure that it comes out. Good luck.