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Stifling a sneeze could be dangerous — here's why

If you have to sneeze, just let it out. Doctors report the case of a man who injured himself while trying to block a sneeze.
/ Source: TODAY

Stifling a sneeze by holding your nose and clamping your mouth shut could result in some dire consequences, British doctors warn.

As evidence, they point to the case of a 34-year-old man who tried this method and ruptured the back of his throat, leaving him barely able to speak or swallow and in a lot of pain, according to an article published in BMJ Case Reports.

This kind of injury is rare, the three doctors from the University Hospitals of Leicester noted. Usually, the cause is some sort of trauma, although there have been reports of people rupturing the backs of their throats while vomiting or coughing violently.

When he arrived at the emergency room, the young man “described a popping sensation in the back of his neck,” the authors, led by Dr. Wanding Yang, noted. Shortly afterwards, the young man began to feel pain when swallowing and then started to lose his voice.

During his examination, the doctors heard popping and crackling sounds coming from his neck and chest area. Those sounds suggested that air bubbles had leaked into the deep tissue and muscles of the chest.

A CT scan confirmed air had indeed escaped into the man’s chest, a condition that could result in serious complications. The young man was admitted to the hospital, given IV antibiotics and fed through a tube, while doctors waited for his symptoms to resolve.

After a week in the hospital, the man was discharged and advised not to try stifling a sneeze in the same way in the future.

The doctors wrote up their case hoping to prevent future injuries in others: “halting sneezing via blocking [the] nostrils and mouth is a dangerous manoeuvre, and should be avoided,” they cautioned.

And it’s not just the throat that's at risk. Ear drums can be perforated, the authors explained. Even more dangerous, there could be a rupture of a blood vessel in the brain.

While those complications are rare, they can occur, said Dr. Eric Wang, an associate professor of otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

"By closing off the nose and the mouth, you're generating that much pressure which has to escape somewhere," Wang said. "In extreme cases you get something like this: You're able to generate enough pressure to result in a tear."

Sneezing is a natural reflex, Wang said. "There's really nothing you can do to control it.

"Some people really don't like the sneeze coming out of their noses. The best way for them is to sneeze with the mouth open into a tissue so you don't spread germs."