Achoo! Pollen season sets students apart by their sneezes

Caffeine consumption has increased over the past week as students stay up later and later to cram for their last tests of the year. 

But there’s another set of drugs making its way around campus at a surprising speed: antihistamines.

That’s right. It’s allergy season in Sacramento, and plant sperm is wreaking havoc on our sinuses.

When pollen grains (rough structures that protect a plant’s male DNA) get lodged in the sinuses, the body mounts a full-on attack against these foreign particles.

Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies are created and diffused throughout the body, setting off a series of defenses.

White blood cells, known as mast cells, are signaled to release the chemical histamine. Histamine dilates blood vessels, resulting in the symptoms (such as itching, sneezing and inflammation) associated with seasonal allergies.

Sneezing is a reflex, according to When particles like pollen make it into the nasal lining, they trigger a huge intake of air, building pressure in the lungs. This air is forced through the nose when the tongue presses against the palate.

In Sacramento, pollen from oak, willow and walnut trees is primarily responsible for our sneeze season, which usually lasts from March till June (“Allergies Make Life A Misery For Many,” Inside Arden, May 2015).

Allergy symptoms are usually highest in the morning and on warm, windy days when the pollen can travel through the air.

For some students, though, the sneezing season seems to never end. These students have sneezes that their classmates could recognize anywhere.

Aishwarya Nadgauda, senior

Aish sneezing

The room was quiet – students were bent over their biology tests, circling answers.

“A-tea-oo, a-tea-oo, a-tea-oo, a-tea-oo, a-tea-oo, a-tea-oo, a-tea-oo, achoo!”

When senior Aishwarya Nadgauda sneezes, the room seems to fall apart at the seams. Test are all but forgotten as students turn to stare and exclamations ring out from every table.

“There was a moment of silence and then the entire class started laughing,” said senior Anna Wiley, a member of that biology class. “Even (biology teacher Kellie Whited) freaked out about how cute (Aishwarya’s sneeze) was.”

Whited doesn’t deny her obsession. “Her sneeze is just adorable!” she said. “The fact that there are multiple sneezes in a row just makes it that much more precious.”

Whited isn’t alone. In a recent Octagon poll, 41 percent of high schoolers listed Nadgauda as having a “distinctive sneeze.”

So what makes her sinuses so “cute”?

“It doesn’t sound like a real sneeze,” senior Maxwell Shukuya said. “It sounds like she’s just reading the word for the sound.”

Wiley has a similar description. “She says the word “a-tea-oo” over and over in a high-pitched voice,” she said. “After doing that about five to 10 times, she has an actual sneeze.”

Nadgauda’s used to the attention that always accompanies allergy season.

“Even after all this time, people still find (my sneeze) funny,” she said.

Because of the frequent laughs, Nadgauda said she often tries to stop herself from sneezing.

“When I sneeze, people always say I’m kidding,” she said.

“I try not to sneeze during Mock Trial because I don’t want (the judges) to think I’m joking.”

In addition to laughing, many students also say Nadgauda’s sneeze correlates to her personality. “(She has) a very dainty sneeze, and she’s a very proper person,” Wiley said.

Manson Tung, junior

Manson sneezing

Nadgauda isn’t the only student with a sneeze that reflects her personality.

Junior Manson Tung’s is “loud, just like him,” according to junior Madison Judd.

“It’s one huge ‘achoo,’ and then he’s done,” Judd said.

Even strangers are impressed by Tung’s sneeze. “I was on a plane to Hong Kong, and I was sneezing,” Tung said.

“Everyone was in these pods, but I could see their heads sticking out looking at me.”

Like Nadgauda, Tung sometimes tries to hold in his sneeze to keep from disrupting class.

“In English class, I can sometimes feel it build up,” he said. “When it comes without any warning, people get scared.”

Micaela Bennett-Smith, senior

Mic sneezing

Like Nadgauda and Tung, senior Micaela Bennett-Smith always gets a reaction after a sneeze.

“(Her sneeze) is one of those things where everyone stops and listens,” senior Grant Miner said. “You just can’t talk over it.”

It’s not necessarily loud like Tung’s, just big.

“Her whole body shakes, but the sneeze itself is so tiny,” Nadgauda said. “Then she kind of shakes afterwards like it was hard to use all that energy to sneeze.”

Senior Ethan Ham describes the Bennett-Smith sneeze as “excessively loud and high at the beginning.”

“(Bennett-Smith) says ‘achoo’ at such a high pitch I wouldn’t think it was possible,” Miner said. “It’s like a dolphin with hay fever.”

“I think my friends have gotten used to my sneeze by now, but every once in a while someone still laughs or says I sneeze weird,” Bennett-Smith said. “Once someone points it out, it becomes more noticeable.”

And, her classmates say, Bennett-Smith’s sneeze also fits her personality.

“She has a large personality, and her sneeze is proportionally large,” Miner said.

Katia and Annya Dahmani, freshmen

Annya Katia sneezing

Nadgauda’s “cute” sneezes don’t run in the family. In fact, she says her little sister often makes fun of her sneeze.

But that isn’t the case for twin freshmen Annya and Katia Dahmani, who share a very quiet sneeze.

“People think I’m faking it when I sneeze,” Annya said.

Katia has had similar problems. “(People) always mock my sneeze,” she said. “They’ll say ‘Bless you’ in the same way I sneeze by going up an octave on the ‘you.'”

And the Dahmanis have their fair share of sneezing stories, too.

“I was writing an in-class English essay once, and I sneezed three times in a row,” Annya said. “Everyone looked up and laughed.”

Freshman Sonja Hansen said that Annya and Katia always get a lot of stares when they sneeze.

But the general consensus is that Katia’s sneeze is uncharacteristic of her personality.

“Katia is aggressive, and she has an attitude,” Annya said. “But then her sneeze makes her seem like a really small, nice person.”

Their personalities may be opposite, but maybe it’s not so strange that the Dahmani sneeze so similarly. There is an “innate pattern to the way we sneeze” and this pattern is “probably genetic in some ways,” said Frederic Little, assistant professor of medicine at Boston University, in an article.

Previously published in the print edition on May 26, 2015. 

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