By David Derbyshire
Last updated at 11:19 PM on 19th December 2008
It may not sound like the most promising start to a romance, but a bout of sneezing can be sign that someone is attracted to you.
Doctors have uncovered a bizarre medical condition where people sneeze every time they think about sex or have an orgasm.
The condition appears to afflict both and men and women and to be uncontrollable.
More than just a cold: Sneezing can be triggered by sexual fantasies, scientists found
Dr Mahmood Bhutta, an ear, nose and throat expert at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, who describes the condition in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, admits that his initial reaction was disbelief.
But now he thinks the phenomenon is genuine and closely linked to the bursts of sneezing that one in four people have when they are exposed to bright sunshine.
The condition came to light in a middle-aged man, who has not been named, who complained that he had an uncontrollable fit of sneezes each time he was sexually aroused.
After overcoming his scepticism, Dr Bhutta began searching medical records - and internet chat rooms - to see if anyone else had a similar problem.
'I was surprised by how many people also reported the same reflex in internet chat rooms,' he said. Typing the words 'sex, sneeze or sneezing' into the Google search engine produced a surprising number of hits.
Seventeen men and women reported sneezing immediately they thought about sex, and three had the same experience after orgasm.
'Although internet reports do not give us an accurate incidence of these phenomena, our findings do suggest that it is much more common than recognised,' wrote Dr Bhutta and his colleague Dr Harold Maxwell, a retired psychiatrist.
Dr Bhutta believes the link is caused by a fault in the autonomic nervous system - the part of the nervous system that is involved with heart rate, blood flow and digestion. The nerves that control breathing, blood pressure, pupil construction, sneezing and digestion run close to each other in the brain stem.
It is thought that light-sensitive sneezing and sex-related sneezing occur when these signals get muddled.
'It certainly seems odd, but I think this reflex demonstrates evolutionary relics in the wiring of the autonomic nervous system,' he said. 'Sometimes the signals in this system get crossed, and I think this may be why some people sneeze when they think about sex.'
Dr Bhutta believes the response might also run in families.
'It may be difficult to know, because parents and children are unlikely to discuss such phenomena with each other,' he added.
SNEEZING FACT FILE
- Air leaves the nose during a sneeze at 95mph - faster than the wind in a Force 12 hurricane.
- Around 40,000 droplets of mucous fly into the air with each sneeze.
- Some studies have shown that sneezes can be delayed by firmly pressing the area below the nose with a finger,
- Ancient Greeks believed sneezes were signs from the Gods.
- In most cultures, people say "Good Health" or "health!" after a sneeze. The origins of the British "Bless You" are unknown - but have been linked tot he Medieval belief that souls could escape from the body during a sneeze.
- Its a myth that eyes close during a sneeze to stop them flying out of the head. The involuntary blink is a side effect of the signal from the brain to the chest, face and stomach during a sneeze.
- If you sneeze while driving at 70mph, your car will travel 300ft with your eyes closed.