Last month, a 12-year-old girl’s mysterious sneezing illness promoted a flurry of attention after her story was told on MSNBC’s Today show. Lauren Johnson sneezes 10 times a minute – up to 12,000 of times a day – and doctors have no clue why. Weeks later she was diagnosed with Paediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptoccus, or PANDAS. Her parents say that antibiotics have improved her disorder, but that she is at risk of showing symptoms again in the future.
Another chronic sneezer, 22-year-old Caileen Wendel of Pennsylvania, says she sympathizes with Johnson because she has suffered from the same sneezing symptoms for five years. Doctors were also baffled by her condition and after 40 emergency room visits, Wendel finally found a doctor willing to try something new. Dr. Larry Geisler with St. Mary’s Hospital in Langhorne, Pa., prescribed the anti-nausea drug Reglan (metoclopramide) with Benedryl. Within five minutes, Wendel’s sneezing stopped.
“I don’t know if it’s a fix-all, but it happened to work and it worked for Caileen,” Dr. Geisler told NBC Philadelphia. It is a blessing that Wendel’s treatment is working, giving her life back. “To be able to stop something that I have no control over is probably one of the best feelings in the world,” she said. Both Wendel and Dr. Geisler hope that the same combination of medications can help Johnson.
Wendel says her symptoms return from time to time, and when they do she gets back on the combined Reglan-with-Benedryl meds and the sneezing stops. But, staying on the drug long term is not an option for Wendel. While Benedryl is available over-the-counter, Reglan requires a prescription, and carries a black box warning, issued earlier this year by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The warning was issued after the FDA received numerous reports of a serious movement disorder known as Tardive Dyskinesia in people who had taken Reglan. Studies have shown that people who take the drug for more than 12 weeks are as much as 20 percent at risk for developing the condition.