What Brings on Sudden Sneezing and Nasal Congestion?

Alarmed by a sudden onset of sneezing? Can’t seem to find a reason for this sudden bout of sneezing which is accompanied by nasal congestion?

Worry not. In this article, we will explore all the main causes of sudden sneeze-fests and nasal congestion from a variety of sources and for several reasons.

Cold and nasal congestion is usually a symptom of the common cold, flu, or influenza-like illnesses and doesn't appear without notice unless the conditions described below are responsible.

Allergic Rhinitis

Also, known as hay fever, allergic rhinitis usually occurs during season allergies, but can also last year-round depending on the trigger. Some common triggers for hay fever-related allergies include pollen, dust mites, pet dander, mold, cockroaches, latex, animal urine or feces, and wood dust amongst others.


The allergic reaction causes symptoms such as sneezing, a blocked and runny nose, watery eyes, itchiness in the roof of your mouth, a sore throat, and a cough.

Sneezing or nasal congestion from allergic rhinitis is easy to treat, even at home. You can use salt water solutions for nasal lavage or irrigation or you could buy nasal decongestant sprays or drops (these are not for children below the age of 6 years).

Oral decongestants should not be used by people with hypertension or other cardiac issues, as they can cause a sudden rise in blood pressure. You can also get over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines like Benadryl or Claritin.

By addressing the trigger which is the foundation for the allergy, allergic rhinitis can also be addressed. If the symptoms continue and impede your normal functioning such as work, school, or sleep, you should consult a general physician who can help to find other triggers you may have missed.

Non-Allergic Rhinitis

This condition seems a lot like allergic rhinitis but is qualitatively different. For one, it isn’t caused by allergies and second, it is almost always long-term. There is no definitive cause for this condition, but some common triggers include −

  • Weather and temperature i.e., very cold or very hot temperatures and weather changes. For example, increases in humidity can cause swelling of the nasal lining while cold weather can cause a runny nose in what is called cold weather rhinitis.

  • Dust, external irritants like fumes, smog, cement dust, chemicals, perfumes, or cigarette smoke

  • Over-use of nasal decongestants can cause a congestion rebound (a return of the congestion in greater force) also called rhinitis medicamentosa if used for a couple of days at a time.

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  • Medications which include painkillers like ibuprofen or aspirin, beta-blockers for blood pressure, anti-depressants, sedatives, and birth control pills

  • Underlying long-term illnesses or conditions such as diabetes or thyroid malfunction

  • Your sleeping position may provoke non-allergic rhinitis if you sleep on your back or you if have acid reflux which in turn can trigger issues like sleep apnea.

  • Hormone changes such as during pregnancy, post-partum, menstruation, or menopause can trigger this condition mostly by causing hypothyroidism i.e., an underactive thyroid.

  • Viral infections such as those of the flu or common cold can also be the cause of this condition.

  • Sometimes the nasal glands don’t generate enough moisture either due to nasal surgery or as a consequence of aging, which is called senile rhinitis.

The symptoms may seem similar to allergic rhinitis, but they aren't exactly the same other than sneezing and nasal congestion. They include −

  • Stuffiness in the nose

  • Mucus-filled cough and mucus in the throat

You will need to see a doctor to ascertain the reason for your non-allergic rhinitis, especially if existing OTC medications and self-treatment don't help, as it could be attributed to another serious health problem.

*Sinusitis which can occur due to bacterial or viral infections could be the trigger for non-allergic rhinitis. At the same, long-term congestion due to non-allergic rhinitis (whether fungal infection-based or not) can lead to complications of sinusitis and issues like nasal polyps that block your airways.

Acid Reflux or GERD

If you suffer from persistent acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease, this could be a likely reason for your sudden sneezing and nasal congestion. If the stomach acid reached up to the back g your throat it could cause throat and associated nasal irritation.

This reaction in turn makes your nose stuffy. Treatments for GERD are essential if you have been diagnosed. Otherwise, if you have acidity or acid reflux only infrequently then carry some antacids to pre-empt such attacks.

Pollen-Food Allergy Syndrome

Pollen allergies aren’t restricted just to breathing in pollen from weeds, grass, or trees. It can also manifest as pollen-food allergy syndrome also referred to as an oral-allergy syndrome. It usually happens to people who already suffer from pollen allergies during the specific season.

During pollen season, you may eat seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables which have proteins very similar to pollen protein, that your body is unable to distinguish. As consequence, you may have swelling of the eyes and nasal lining, although it isn’t very common if the fruits and vegetables are cooked.

Gustatory Rhinitis

This condition is a form of non-allergic rhinitis that usually occurs in people after they have eaten spicy or hot foods. Other than sneezing and a stuffy nose, you may also have a postnasal drip in which you can feel the mucus dripping in the back of your throat.

It is a genetic problem and also occurs after you eat very large meals that distend your stomach and don’t allow enough airflow.

This can be rectified by eating smaller meals at greater frequencies. It may also occur as a consequence of the neurogenic reflex mechanism i.e., a reflex of the nervous system from eating very cold foods that cause multiple sneezes.


Aging, inhaling irritants in polluted residential areas or workplaces such as at construction sites, pregnancies, and existing health problems can be risk factors for non-allergic rhinitis.

Genetic traits from parents who have asthma or allergies are risk factors for allergic rhinitis. While you can’t control hereditary traits, you can minimize your triggers and get the necessary preventative or curative treatment to mitigate distress.

Updated on: 30-Mar-2023


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