Ask Joe | Cause of sun sneezing unknown

Q: Why do some people sneeze when they look at the sun?

— Terri

A: This question is not a new one. Aristotle even pondered about this a couple of thousand years ago and thought that the heat of the sun was responsible.

Almost 2,000 years later, Philosopher Francis Bacon took a stab at Aristotle’s hypothesis, but he was unable to reproduce the effect when subjects kept their eyes closed while looking at the sun. He surmised that if it were just the heat, then the eyes being closed would not change the results. Bacon guessed that it was the brightness of the sun that made the eyes water, and the moisture seeping into the nose caused enough irritation to cause a sneeze.

But we now know that some people get the same photic sneeze reflex when looking at a bright artificial light. This wipes out Bacon’s idea as these lights don’t transmit as much heat or light as the sun. Modern researches use artificial lights to better study these photic sneezes. These studies have found that the response to cause a sneeze happens too fast for the other part of Bacon’s hypothesis which involved the watering of the eyes.

And while there is still not complete conclusiveness to the topic, it seems over-stimulating the optic nerve can confuse the body which thinks there is not just irritation to the eyes, but also to nerves in the nose.

Q: Can lightning come inside of a house through an open or closed window?

— Joan

A: I always love to address lightning safety. I am assuming that you are asking as to whether a closed window offers more protection than an open window when it comes to lightning safety in a house. And the answer is that basically there is no statistical difference between an open or closed window.

Lightning and electricity like to go through some things, but not others. Air and glass are both insulators of electricity which means that if there is an easier path, lightning will choose it over these objects. But obviously the charge can go through air as the lightning bolts that we see, and the same holds true for a window. Therefore, if there is an object that better conducts electricity near the window, the lightning can go through an open or closed window.

Normally when lightning strikes a house, it will work its way through the metal in the structure, wires and pipes and work its way down to the ground. But it’s not just a direct strike that poses a threat of the electricity from lighting. The charge can come from a nearby strike through the wires and pipes to your house.

Therefore, if you hear thunder, stay away from the wires, water and pipes and then you should feel very secure.