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Expert Q&A

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What's causing my morning sneezing fits?

Asked by Eric Rodrue, Miami Beach, Florida

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For the past two months, each morning I have had a series of sneezes and a runny nose. The episodes last for about 30 minutes. I had a flu shot in November 2008. I exercise daily, riding the bike for about 14 miles each day. I average one hour and approximately 15 mph. When I am exercising, the sniffles go away! I do not like to take over-the-counter pills. What could be wrong?

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Conditions Expert Dr. Otis Brawley Chief Medical Officer,
American Cancer Society

Expert answer

Dear Eric:

When trying to figure out why someone would have early morning runny nose I would look at environmental causes. There might be some allergic exposure. It could be a pillow or bedding to which one is allergic. Identifying and removing the allergen would be best. A dry room or a cold room can cause nasal stuffiness and even a runny nose for a period of time. Vasomotor rhinitis is a runny nose or nasal stuffiness due to a change in temperature. Its actually very common. It would be interesting to note if the same problem occurred while traveling.

It would be unusual for a flu shot to cause a runny nose. This is the kind of problem that a general internal medicine or family practice physician can help you with. The answer may be simply removing the antigen, using nasal saline before bedtime or early in the morning or an antihistamine or nasal use of mild steroids. Nasalchrom or chromolyn sodium is a nose spray that hardens the mast cells and prevents release of histamine. This is sometimes better than antihistamines, most of which cause sleepiness.

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