Can sneezing really help treat depression? | Crikey

Can sneezing really help treat depression?


MP Andrew Robb writes in Crikey today about his own personal battle with depression. One quote in particular caught our eye:

I employed various bizarre techniques to try and get myself going. For example, when driving to work, I’d stop a few times, stare at the sun to make myself sneeze, as this would release endorphins and give me a lift.

There are two big questions to examine here: does looking at the sun make you sneeze, and more importantly, does sneezing help depression?

Crikey consulted various medical experts and the results are nothing to sniff at:

Can staring at the sun really make you run for the tissues?

Yes, in fact the condition even has a name: photic sneeze reflex. It was first noted by Aristotle, according to The Scientific American. And it’s not just looking at the sun that makes people sneeze, looking at other types of bright light can have the same affect.

Can everyone look at the sun and make themselves sneeze?

This particular phenomenon applies to only a select few. Photic sneeze reflex is a genetic quirk that affects only 10-35% of the population. It’s also more common in males than females, and most common with white people.

Is it bad for you?

Apparently you should be concerned if you’re a combat pilot or perform any other high risk occupation. MPs should be safe, but if you’re worried, antihistamines can help cure the problem, suggests Professor Jonathan Crowston, director of the Centre for Eye Research Australia.

How does photic sneeze reflex work?

There are a few different theories. One is that it is a congenital malfunction in nerve signals in the trigeminal nerve nucleus, the area responsible for sneezes. When the optic nerve gets overstimulated (i.e. by looking at bright light), the trigeminal nerve is triggered and you sneeze.

What this means,” says Konrad Pesudovs, foundation chair of Optometry and Vision Science at Flinders University, “is that you have two nerves very close to another, like two electric wires, but the insulation is imperfect, so when you have a massive current in one nerve some of it ‘jumps’ to the adjacent nerve and an erroneous signal starts, which ends up triggering a sneeze.”

Another theory involves the sunlight causing eyes to water, with the resulting moisture then seeping into the nose, producing a sneeze.

The reason we don’t really know the answer is that the photic sneeze reflex is a curiosity rather than a serious disease and we tend to focus our research resources into more serious problems. Perhaps mental health is one of these!” notes Pesudovs.

Well, if we’re focusing on mental health, let’s look at the benefits of sneezing for depression suffers. Are there any?

It’s an interesting observation but there are no reports and I’ve never heard of sneezing helping depression,” Scientia Professor Philip Mitchell, head of the School of Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales told Crikey. He’s also a consultant psychiatrist at the Black Dog Institute.

It’s unusual. The aspect of it that makes sense is that we know that sometimes bright light can help with depression. Whether that was one aspect of helping him, but the sneezing, there are no reports of it.”

But don’t the endorphins help?

There’s an interest in endorphins and depression, but it’s more speculative than well rounded science,” says Mitchell.

So it was the sunshine that helped, not the sneezing?

The only possible explanation I can come up with to help the depression is the bright light, particularly in the morning and in the evening. Bright light particularly helps with seasonal affective disorder, which is a form of depression which tends to come on in winter months. There’s good scientific literature around bright light exposure for depression,” says Mitchell.

In short, sneezing may not be the answer if you’re struggling to cope. But stopping to soak up the sunshine or even standing under a bright lamp of an evening may be one way to deal with dark days.

My Dad, me and my son have this particular genetic quirk. Moving from shade to bright sunlight, we all sneeze. I must try and engineer an occasion for all three of us to do this at once.

I hate 24 hour news channels

So the ABC is launching "ABC News 24". Full marks for the totally unique name.  I want to have a kvetch about 24 news channels.  My pattern of use of these channels, I suspect, isn't that different from anyone else.

When I want the news, I want the update now.  If your channel isn't providing it now, what's the point of a 24 news channel?  If you're going to run documentaries and other filler, don't call it "News 24", call it "Documentaries and News" or something.

Now i understand producers want to get all creative, and look at issues in more detail.  Great.  Have another channel, and on the 24 hour news channel, have a loop of the last news update until the next one.  When something big happens, switch to the live feed in studio that's on the "Documentaries and News".

Better yet, how about getting really funky with IPTV and just having a playlisted news service that always has the latest versions of whatever stories are current.  Then I can register my preferences and, for example, never see a story on AFL or NRL but always see stories on football.

Of course, I guarantee that ABC News 24 will be just like BBC News 24, and have all the documentaries and crap, so whenever I tune in there won't be the one thing I want: news.  Which will make me unhappy.

One thing about the NBN that annoys me

One of the things that's annoying me about all the NBN talk is the insistence on metro-equivalent services in regional and remote areas, as though this is a reasonable thing to require.

I live in the inner city of Sydney and I get “metro” services: I can walk to my nearest major hospital, there’s an international airport a short walk away, a shiny modern new swimming pool under construction give minutes' walk away, excellent cafes and restaurants wherever you turn and broadband via two HFC cables or a copper pair running past my house.

I also have horrendous, pause-the-telly-and-wait aircraft noise, air pollution, traffic congestion, neighbours who are, quite literally, as close as 40cm from me and a house price that would make any country real estate buyer wince. It’s the price I pay for enjoying a vibrant, well-serviced metropolis.

Surely if regional and remote Australians want metro-equivalence, they’d put other services higher on their list than fast broadband. Things like schools, hospitals and public transport.