You’re probably familiar with the annoying, itching feeling you get when you need to sneeze but simply can’t. Or maybe you need to get a sneeze out of your system before you give a talk, attend a meeting, eat a meal, or greet your date.
Whether you already feel that familiar prickling sensation or you just want to clear out any irritants, it’s possible to sneeze on command. Here are a few tricks that you can try.
1. Wiggle a tissue in your nose
A tissue can be useful before a sneeze!
Twist one side of a tissue into a point. Carefully put it into a nostril and “tickle” the inside of your nose by moving the tissue back and forth. For added impact, some suggest humming while wiggling the tissue.
This method stimulates the trigeminal nerve, aka the nerve that lets your brain know it’s time to sneeze.
Use some caution when doing this — you don’t want to stick the tissue too far up your nose!
2. Look up toward a bright light
Ever go outside on a sunny day and start sneezing? For some, bright light is all that’s needed to bring on a sneeze.
Known as photic sneezing or — more appropriately — ACHOO (autosomal dominant compulsive helio-ophthalmic outbursts), this hereditary sneeze-starting trait is found in roughly a third of the population.
If you’re one of the two-thirds of folks without this trait, then this likely isn’t the method for you.
Try suddenly looking at a bright light to make yourself sneeze. It can also help to close your eyes for a few seconds beforehand. To avoid damaging your eyes, always be sure to never look directly into any light source.
3. Sniff a spice
It’s no coincidence that pepper makes you sneeze. Spices irritate the nerve endings located in the mucous membrane inside your nose. When you inhale them, your nose’s reaction is to dispel them as quickly as possible. Hence, a sneeze.
Black, white, and green pepper are popular choices when trying to spice up your sneeze. You can also turn to other spices like cumin, coriander, or crushed red pepper.
Only inhale a little — too much and things can go from pleasantly spicy to painfully burning.
4. Try plucking out an eyebrow hair
Some people will sneeze reflexively just from plucking out an eyebrow hair. To see if this will cause you to sneeze, get out a pair of tweezers and use them to pluck out a single eyebrow hair. This may be enough to bring on a sneeze.
Grasp the eyebrow hair near its root with the tips of the tweezers and pull the hair out quickly.
5. Pluck a nose hair
We’ll be honest: this one’ll hurt.
The inner lining of your nose is sensitive, and pulling out a nose hair is far from pleasant. However, it can stimulate the trigeminal nerve, which can then lead to a sneeze. Even thinking about this may start to make your nose itch, as the lining of the nose is such a sensitive area.
Our recommendation should you choose this option: Be gentle.
6. Massage the roof of your mouth
The trigeminal nerve runs along the roof of your mouth, so another great way to stimulate it is to massage the roof of your mouth with your tongue.
Simply run the tip of your tongue back and forth along the roof of your mouth. Be patient: That special sneeze spot varies by person, so you may have to play around a bit with where exactly to massage, how much pressure you should apply, and how much time it may take to trigger a sneeze.
7. Rub the bridge of your nose
You can also massage the bridge of your nose to trigger the trigeminal nerve (this can help drain fluid in your nose too!).
With your fingers, apply firm but gentle pressure in a downward motion to massage the bridge of your nose. Keep massaging until you feel a slight tickle in the back of your nose, which should cause a sneeze.
8. Eat a piece of chocolate
Eating dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao may help bring about a sneeze. This typically works for sneezes that aren’t allergy-induced. People who don’t regularly eat chocolate may have more success.
This is technically categorized as a photic sneeze reflex, because it causes sneezing by an unknown trigger. It’s not known exactly why it works, but it could be that some of the cocoa particles get into the nose.
9. Go somewhere cool
Another good way to trigger your sneeze reflex is to take a deep breath of cold air. For instance, if you’re inside and it’s significantly colder outside, try stepping out and suddenly inhaling the cold air.
If it’s not cold enough outside, try opening your freezer and leaning your face into the cold air for a few seconds.
Another way to do this is to take a hot shower, then stick your head out quickly and take a deep breath of cooler air.
10. Sniff a fizzy drink
Sniffing a carbonated beverage, especially from a soda fountain, may be all the stimulation your nose needs to let loose a sneeze. Simply drinking a carbonated beverage may work, but you can also hold the cup right under your nose and inhale through your nose. This should cause you to sneeze.
Make sure that the soda is really fizzy. If it is flat, then there might not be enough bubbles to bring on a sneeze.
You may find that some of these techniques work better for you than others. Remember not to be too forceful with any of these. Everyone reacts differently to irritants and has different sensitivities.