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Is Sneezing a Symptom Of COVID-19?

Woman on a bus appears to be sneezing with her face mask on.
by: Claire Nulla
January 8, 2024

Sneezing is a typical bodily response triggered by various irritants such as allergies, colds, or even temperature changes. However, with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, questions have arisen about whether sneezing could be a symptom of this infectious disease.

Here’s an examination of the relationship between sneezing and COVID-19.

Is sneezing a COVID symptom?

One of the most common symptoms associated with COVID-19 is coughing. However, there’s an ongoing debate about whether sneezing can also be considered a symptom of this viral infection.

According to various studies and medical experts, while sneezing can occur in some COVID-19 cases, it is not among the most common symptoms reported.

Though COVID-19 symptoms present differently for each person, the primary symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Shortness of breath

What causes sneezing

Sneezing is a reflex action that expels irritants from your nasal passages. While sneezing is a prevalent symptom, it is rarely a sign of a serious illness.

Here are the most common causes of sneezing.

1.      Irritants and allergens

Sneezing is often triggered by various irritants and allergens present in our environment and is one of the most common allergy symptoms. If you have seasonal allergies, you may sneeze more often than ordinary people, despite not having other symptoms.

Allergens can include:

  • Dust
  • Pollen
  • Pet dander
  • Mold spores
  • Smoke
  • Strong odors
  • Pollutants

When these substances enter the nasal passages, they can irritate the sensitive lining. Sneezing is your body’s reflex response to expel these irritants.

2.      Viral infections

Sneezing is one of the common flu symptoms. Viruses that affect the upper respiratory system, such as rhinoviruses, can irritate the nasal lining and trigger sneezing. Sneezing helps to clear the nasal passages and eliminate the virus from your body.

3.      Nasal congestion

Sneezing can occur due to nasal congestion caused by sinusitis or rhinitis. These conditions can lead to inflammation and swelling of the nasal passages, causing a blockage. The body responds by sneezing to try and clear the congestion and restore normal breathing.

4.      Allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, is an allergic reaction to substances such as pollen, dust mites or certain foods. Sneezing is a prominent symptom of allergic rhinitis and is often accompanied by other symptoms, like:

  • Runny or itchy nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Nasal congestion

5.      Cold air or temperature changes

Exposure to cold air or sudden temperature changes can trigger sneezing in some individuals. The body’s response to the cold stimulus can cause the nasal passages to constrict and trigger a sneeze reflex.

6.      Certain medications

Some medications, such as nasal sprays or certain blood pressure medications, can have sneezing as a side effect. If you notice sneezing after starting a new drug, it’s essential to consult your healthcare provider for further evaluation.

When could sneezing be a sign of COVID-19?

Although sneezing is not commonly listed as a primary symptom of COVID-19, there have been reported cases where sneezing was among the presenting symptoms.

In such cases, sneezing is usually accompanied by other common COVID-19 symptoms like fever, cough, runny nose, and sometimes difficulty breathing. Additionally, sneezing may occur due to nasal congestion caused by the virus.

Considering the potential overlap of symptoms and the possibility of atypical presentations, it becomes crucial to exercise caution and seek medical advice if you experience sneezing and other COVID-19 symptoms.

When to get tested for COVID-19

Man using rapid test at home

It’s recommended to get tested for COVID-19 if you’re experiencing symptoms such as:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Trouble breathing

Testing plays a vital role in controlling the spread of the virus and ensuring early identification and appropriate medical care for infected individuals. The testing guidelines may vary depending on the local health authority and the prevalence of the virus in your region.

It’s generally advisable to get tested if you have:

  • Symptoms consistent with COVID-19
  • Had close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19
  • Been in an area with many COVID-19 cases

Timely testing not only helps receive prompt medical attention but also helps implement necessary measures to protect others.

How to protect others if you are sneezing

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, covering your mouth and nose while sneezing dramatically helps prevent the spread of the virus through respiratory droplets.

Here are all the things you can do to protect others:

  • Use a tissue or your elbow to cover your sneeze.
  • Dispose of used tissues properly.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Wear a mask in public settings.
  • Maintain physical distance from others.
  • Follow local public health guidelines.

Treatment of sneezing

In most cases, sneezing isn’t a cause for significant concern and does not require specific treatment. It is often a transient response to irritants or allergens. Over-the-counter antihistamines or nasal decongestants may relieve sneezing associated with allergies or nasal congestion.

In specific cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe allergy shots to minimize the frequency, especially if the sneezing episodes affect your daily activities.

When to contact a doctor

While sneezing alone is usually not a cause for alarm, there are instances where contacting a doctor is recommended. If you experience persistent sneezing accompanied by other COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, it’s crucial to seek medical advice.

Additionally, suppose you have been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case or have traveled to an area with high transmission rates. In that case, contacting a healthcare professional for guidance is advisable.

Healthcare professionals are best equipped to assess your symptoms, provide accurate advice and guide you on whether further evaluation or testing is necessary.

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