Achoo! Lauren Johnson Can't Stop Sneezing

Doctors Are Baffled Over What Could Be Causing a 12-Year-Old's Rare Sneezing Condition


Nov. 11, 2009—

Lauren Johnson is a typical 12-year-old girl whose life is constantly punctuated by interruptions that are anything but normal.

Whether at her Virginia home, with her family or getting ready for bed, Lauren sneezes up to 16 times per minute, a condition that has has stumped her parents and doctors.

"It's frustrating a lot," Lauren told "Good Morning America" today, sneezing four times before getting that sentence out.

Lauren's prolonged sneezing fit began about two weeks ago, when she was recovering from a cold.

She can't go to school, and sleep is her only escape, though even that is hard to come by.

"It's pretty hard," she said. "I have to kind of be physically exhausted before I can, because I just sneeze and sneeze until I eventually can hold off for a couple of seconds before I can go to sleep."

Her mother Lynn Johnson has taken her to countless doctors and a hypnotherapist, but no one has been able to help. An ear, nose and throat specialist has found nothing wrong with her, and Lauren is also seeing a therapist to determine whether there is some sort of psychological reason for the sneezing.

"Their heart goes out to her," Johnson said. "They really want to help her. I just don't think anybody knows how."

Allergist Dr. Clifford Bassett said he believes Lauren has a condition called machine-gun sneezing.

"People who have sneezing where it looks like they are blowing a trumpet or violin or machine gun, basically a pattern of sneezing, repetitive sneezing, annoying sneezing," he said.

Bassett said the condition is extremely rare but can be triggered by hundreds of causes, including allergies, sinus problems or growths in the nasal passage.

Johnson said the hardest part of her Lauren's ordeal is not knowing how to comfort her.

"I can't tell my daughter it's going to get better, in a week or in a month or in a year," she said. "Because everybody else who has experienced anything like that it didn't happen."

Chronic Sneezing Takes Physical, Emotional Toll

Unusual as Lauren's condition is, she's not the first person to suffer from incessant sneezing.

Two years ago, "Good Morning America" reported on Brooke Owens, who sneezed constantly. Since then, she has had bouts of sneezing that can last up to six weeks, putting her in immense pain.

"It feel like sharp needles or knives going through my hands and my toes," she said. "If somebody even touches me, I scream."

And there's also an emotional toll. Owens said she, too, was forced out of school because her sneezing was considered disruptive.

"They just crushed my dreams because I wanted to go to be a registered nurse," she said. "It takes a big toll on my life, on what I wanted to do, but I try to take it day by day."

That's a plan Lauren said she is also following. She studies at home and has made several modifications to accommodate her sneezing, right down to the way she eats.

"I kind of take smaller bites and chew for one or two seconds before I sneeze," she said.

All her mother can do is watch.

"It's helpless to know when you're looking at your daughter and you're reminded 12 to 16 times a minute that there is something wrong with her, that people know very little about it and no matter what you do, you can't help her," she said.

ABC affiliate WVEC's Patrick Terpstra contributed to this report.