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.

So that's why The Hub is empty

The Hub Theatre, Newtown

I heard from The Mayor that The Hub's development application has been rejected by the council. As such, it's now for lease, either long or short term, pending resolution of the DA issues, and I imagine an improvement in economic conditions.

Inside The Hub

At the very least this gives us a bit of a view inside. I've never been inside: it was an adult theatre when I moved into Newtown in the early 1990s, and since that closed I've never seen it open for any reason. Since it would be an amazing space for the emerging Sydney Hackerspace project, I thought I'd contact the estate agent and see what they wanted for it.

Now we know why it's vacant, and has been for so long. On a three year lease (with three year option) they want $350,000 a year (ex-GST), of nearly $7,000 a week! On a short term lease they want $5,000 a week (ex-GST). Yeesh! No wonder the place is empty. It's a brilliant space, but I can't think of many businesses that would be able to justify that, without some fairly major redevelopment -- which is exactly what the council has rejected.

It's a shame, as it's an absolutely brilliant space.

While trawling through this I did find a DA for someone planning to turn the old shop corner building next to it, on the corner of Bedford and Denison, into a cafe. Looks quite cool.

Explaining to an 8-year old

I've been babysitting my niece today and we got to watching a Goodies DVD I have. After getting through three episodes on one disc, she insisted on watching the South Africa episode. Now The Goodies are good entertainment in the same way as The Simpsons. There's enough dick and fart jokes, and physical humour, for the kids. And there's enough clever, intelligent humour for the adults.

The South Africa episode is a little different though. First I had to explain what Apartheid was all about, and why the rest of the world was boycotting and making fun of the white South Africans. But then how do you explain the cultural significance of blackface to an 8-year old growing up in a (somewhat) more tolerant era? (Hell, there was a biscuit called "Golliwog" sold by Arnott's in Australia in my childhood.)

So that was an amusing insight!

Dear Embittered

Someone who seemingly would like to remain anonymous ( has been reading my blog and getting into a froth about something or other.

I have read your Blog and for the life of me I can't see why anyone would be interested in consulting you or having you on the same planet.

You are an offensive cunt, with not a single redeamable feature which shines through in your blog. You are a sad and embitered little man.

Fuck off and die.

All I can offer is a thorough and heartfelt meh?. Feel free to continue consulting my blog. Or not.

PS: some red pen corrections: redeamable should be redeemable, embitered should be embittered.

Truth in company names

Shonki Brothers logo

I remember seeing these signs all over Leicester, and just thought to look it up. Shonki Brothers real estate. How appropriate.

For the non-Australians, the word shonky means shoddy, dubious quality. For example, the Australian Consumers' Association has the annual Shonky Awards.