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What does it mean when you sneeze five times in a row?

Quick Answer

Sneezing several times in a row can have various causes, from harmless to more concerning. Some common reasons for multiple sneezes include:

  • Allergies – Allergic rhinitis can cause sneezing fits when exposed to triggers like pollen or dust.
  • Irritants – Things like smoke, strong smells, or changes in temperature/humidity can irritate the nose and lead to sneezing.
  • Illness – Colds, sinus infections, and flu can all prompt multiple sneezes as your body tries to expel viruses and germs.
  • Stress – Stress and anxiety may play a role in sneezing episodes for some people.

Most of the time, sporadic sneezing isn’t serious. But if it becomes chronic or is accompanied by other symptoms, see a doctor to pinpoint the cause. Treating underlying conditions like allergies and avoiding irritants can help reduce sneezing fits.

What Causes Multiple Sneezes?

Sneezing is an involuntary reflex and protective mechanism to clear irritants or germs from the nasal cavity. When the trigeminal nerve in the mucous membrane of the nose is stimulated, a sneeze reflex is triggered that expels air to remove the irritant.

Some potential causes of sneezing several times consecutively include:


Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is a very common reason for sneezing attacks. When an allergen like pollen, dust mites, mold, or animal dander is inhaled, it triggers an immune reaction that causes inflammation and irritation of the nasal passages. Histamine is released, stimulating sneezing which helps eliminate the allergens. Seasonal allergies to pollen or year-round indoor allergies can both lead to sneezing fits.


Irritating particles in the air frequently cause sneezing as well. This includes things like:

  • Cigarette smoke or pollution
  • Strong odors from perfumes, cleaning products, or paint fumes
  • Sudden changes in temperature or humidity
  • Spicy foods
  • Exposure to bright sunlight

These irritants stimulate the sneeze reflex, resulting in rapid bursts of sneezes as your body tries to expel the irritant and protect the respiratory system.


Sneezing is commonly associated with cold, flu, and sinus infections. When you inhale a virus or bacteria, sneezing helps release the germs and infectious agents from the body. Colds and flu prompt sneezes through inflammation and increased sensitivity of the mucous membranes. Sinus infections can cause mucus to drip down the back of the throat, triggering sneezing as well.


For some people, bouts of sneezing may be linked to anxiety and stress. The connection between brain and body means that anxiety can make existing irritation like allergies worse. Stress hormones may also increase sensitivity in the trigeminal nerve or nasal passages, lowering the threshold for sneezing. Talk to a doctor if you notice sneezing fits frequently occur during times of high stress.

Is Sneezing Five Times Serious?

Occasionally sneezing several times in a row is not necessarily a cause for concern in an otherwise healthy person. Sneezing helps protect and clear the airways, and a random fit generally passes quickly.

However, if you experience any of the following, consult a doctor:

  • Frequent sneezing attacks over weeks or months
  • Sneezing that interferes with sleep, work, or daily life
  • Other worrisome symptoms like fever, headache, difficulty breathing
  • Green or yellow mucus discharge after sneezing fits
  • Facial/sinus pain or pressure with sneezing

Chronic, recurring sneezing could indicate an underlying condition requiring treatment. Seek medical advice to identify potential causes like:

Chronic Sinus Problems

Recurring sinus infections, nasal polyps, deviated septum, or other chronic sinus issues can all prompt sneezing fits. Persistent inflammation, mucus production, and nasal congestion from these conditions irritate the lining of the nose and sinuses.

Nasal Tumors

While very rare, tumors or growths in the nasal cavities may cause irritation and sneezing. Benign polyps or malignant tumors would need to be evaluated by an ENT specialist.

Nasal Damage

Past damage to the nasal septum or passages from injury, surgery, or cocaine use can sometimes contribute to chronic sneezing. Scarring and residual irritation stemming from damage may cause abnormal sneezing.

Potential Cause Symptoms Treatment
Allergies Itchy, watery eyes; congestion; runny nose; coughing Avoiding allergens; antihistamines; allergy shots
Sinus infection Facial pain/pressure; purulent discharge; fever; fatigue Antibiotics; nasal steroids; nasal irrigation
Common cold Sore throat; cough; congestion; fever; body aches Rest; fluids; over-the-counter cold meds

When to See a Doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience:

  • Frequent sneezing attacks that disrupt your daily life
  • Sneezing combined with worrisome symptoms like high fever, facial pain, blood-tinged mucus
  • Sneezing and nasal discharge that lasts beyond 10-14 days
  • Frequent sinus infections and sneezing (more than 3-4 per year)
  • Sneezing along with hives, rash, or swelling of the face/throat

Your doctor can help identify the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment. You may be referred to an allergist for allergy testing or an ENT specialist for evaluation of chronic sinus issues.

Diagnosing the Cause of Sneezing Fits

To determine what’s causing sneezing episodes, the doctor will begin with a physical exam of your nose, throat, ears, and chest. They may use a bright light and speculum to visually inspect your nasal passages. Recommended testing may include:

Allergy Testing

Allergy testing pinpoints sensitivity to potential triggers like pollen, pet dander, mold, or dust mites. Skin prick testing or blood tests can identify specific allergies.


Imaging like a CT scan or MRI of the sinuses helps diagnose sinusitis, nasal polyps, deviated septum, or other anatomical factors causing sneezing.

Nasal Endoscopy

A thin, flexible tube with a camera called an endoscope is inserted in the nose to check for nasal polyps, tumors, or sources of irritation/inflammation.


Rarely, a tissue sample might be taken if a nasal tumor is suspected as the cause of chronic sneezing.

How to Stop Sneezing Fits

To reduce sneezing episodes:

  • Avoid triggers – Stay away from known allergens and irritants that tend to induce sneezing.
  • Treat allergies – Use antihistamines, nasal steroids, or allergy shots as needed for allergy relief.
  • Use a saline rinse – Flushing the nasal passage with a saltwater solution helps clear mucus and soothe irritation.
  • Take medication – Your doctor may prescribe steroids, antihistamines, or other meds to reduce sneezing from an identified cause.
  • Try nose clips – Wearing nose clips or plugging the nostrils with your fingers sometimes interrupts a sneezing attack.
  • Relax – Stress-reduction techniques may help if anxiety seems to trigger sneezing fits.

See your doctor if you can’t pinpoint the source of frequent sneezing or it persists despite lifestyle changes and home treatment. Uncontrolled sneezing warrants medical care.

When to Seek Emergency Treatment

Seek prompt emergency care for sneezing along with:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the lips, face, or throat
  • Confusion, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • High fever (over 101 F) and headache
  • Facial pain combined with vision changes or eye swelling
  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the face or body

These symptoms may indicate life-threatening conditions like anaphylaxis, infection in the sinus cavities spreading to the brain, or stroke requiring immediate treatment. Call 911 or go to the nearest ER if you experience sneezing with any severe or concerning symptoms.

Outlook for Chronic Sneezing

The prognosis for chronic sneezing depends on the underlying cause. With treatment of allergies, sinus problems, or other identified conditions, sneezing can often be controlled and kept from severely impacting quality of life.

However, some people may experience recurring sneezing fits or episodes that are tricky to manage even after diagnosis. Severe, untreated allergies can potentially worsen over time. Chronic sinus issues may require ongoing treatment or surgery to prevent frequent sneezing and infections.

Make sure to follow up regularly with your doctor if sneezing persists despite treatment. Monitor for any changes in frequency, severity, or accompanying symptoms over time. Don’t hesitate to ask about adjusting medications or exploring additional therapies if sneezing remains problematic.


Sneezing several times in succession is typically not a major worry if it occurs sporadically. However, recurrent sneezing fits or episodes accompanied by concerning symptoms warrant medical evaluation. See your doctor to pinpoint underlying causes like allergies, sinus trouble, illness, or stress. With effective treatment of any diagnosed conditions, bothersome sneezing can often be reduced and kept under control.