This Common Medication Could Be Triggering Your Non-Stop Sneezing

Some drugs can trigger allergy-like reactions in the body — such as sneezing — even if a person is not allergic, according to Cleveland Clinic experts. This may include medications such as birth control, erectile dysfunction drugs, antidepressants, sedatives, and even non-prescription medicines like NSAIDs. The condition is known as "vasomotor rhinitis" and is characterized by inflammation of the nasal lining, often leading to congestion; an impaired sense of smell; postnasal drip; or sneezing.

Beta-blockers, which are taken by roughly 30 million adults across the country, can also cause vasomotor (nonallergic) rhinitis. Since they affect multiple organ systems, beta-blockers can be prescribed for a variety of health issues, such as migraine, hyperthyroidism, glaucoma, and anxiety (per Cleveland Clinic). Their primary use, however, is in the treatment of cardiovascular and circulatory system health problems. This includes high blood pressure, heart attack, angina, coronary artery disease, and more. By disrupting normal activity within certain cells of the body, beta-blockers can help regulate blood pressure and heart rate, among other functions.

Beta-blockers affect blood vessels within the nose

Nasal blockages unrelated to allergies or infection can often be traced to medication use, according to a 2011 research article published in Therapeutic Advances in Respiratory Disease. How is this so? Beta-blockers are one of many types of drugs that impact our autonomic nervous system, which plays a role in vital, involuntary bodily functions like breathing, digestion, blood pressure, and heart rate (per StatPearls). 

As previously mentioned, beta-blockers are most often used to treat conditions related to the health of our heart and circulation. These drugs are reported to have vasoactive properties, meaning that they alter the size of our blood vessels to lower blood pressure. This vasoactivity is also said to take place within the nasal lining. More specifically, a 2022 review shows that beta-adrenergic antagonists are a type of peripherally acting sympatholytic drug (via Ear, Nose & Throat Journal). These types of beta-blockers work by impeding norepinephrine release, which causes the expansion of blood vessels (vasodilation) and increased vascular permeability in the nasal blood vessels. As a result, nasal congestion has been reported as a side effect of these medications.

What to do if beta-blockers are the cause of your sneezing

Beta-blockers come with several benefits. For example, these drugs have been the subject of thorough study for approximately 60 years, which means their safety and potential side effects have been well documented (per Cleveland Clinic). In addition to being low-cost, beta-blockers are often able to treat multiple related health conditions simultaneously, thereby potentially reducing the need for multiple prescriptions. 

They may not be a good fit for everyone, however. Known side effects include insomnia, fatigue, dizziness, hypotension, arrhythmias, bradycardia, and more. People with asthma or individuals who have low blood pressure or blood sugar levels to begin with should be particularly cautious about taking beta-blockers. 

If you've started taking a beta-blocker and are experiencing nasal congestion, runny nose, or sneezing, your medication may be the reason why. Those with sneezy symptoms of vasomotor rhinitis may want to steer clear of beta-blockers. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns regarding beta-blocker usage. Your doctor can do testing to rule out other possible causes for your sneezing. They can also tell you if other medications might be a better fit for you. Additionally, they can provide you with suggestions for managing your symptoms. 

Do not stop taking your medication without first consulting with your doctor. If you suddenly stop, you may experience heart palpitations, a return of angina pain, or a rise in blood pressure, according to the British Heart Foundation.