Restoration of the efferent phase of the sneeze reflex after regression of an Arnold-Chiari malformation with compression of the medulla oblongata

January 24, 2013
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Abstract

The precise location of the sneeze center in the human brain has not been definitively identified. The aim of this report is to contribute to the effort to detect its location. We report the case of a 13-year-old boy who presented to our outpatient clinic for evaluation of an inability to sneeze. In an attempt to trigger the afferent (nasal) phase of the sneeze reflex, we first applied a cotton swab and later a silver nitrate stick to the patient's nasal mucosa. Once that was accomplished, we observed that the patient could not complete the efferent (expiratory) phase of the sneeze reflex, and thus he did not sneeze. Cranial magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed that his cerebellar tonsils extended approximately 10 mm inferiorly through the foramen magnum, which represented a type I Arnold-Chiari malformation. The tonsils were noted to have compressed the posterolateral portion of the medulla oblongata. At follow-up 21 months later, we noted that the patient was able to sneeze spontaneously as well as with nasal stimulation. Repeat MRI revealed that the Arnold-Chiari malformation had undergone a spontaneous partial regression, which resulted in relief of the compression of the medulla oblongata. We believe that the patient's earlier inability to sneeze might have been attributable to the compression of the medulla oblongata by the cerebellar tonsils and that the site of the compression might represent the location of his sneeze center.


Introduction

Sneezing is a coordinated neuromuscular reflexive response that occurs as a result of stimulation of the nasal mucosa. Sneezing helps protect the body and maintain the continuity of respiration.1 The afferent (nasal) phase of the sneeze reflex occurs when receptors that line the respiratory mucosa are triggered by various stimulants. The sensory stimuli are carried through the trigeminal nerve to the trigeminal ganglion.

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