MIAMI (CBSMiami/CNN) — If you ever tried to be extra polite by stifling a sneeze, you may want to think twice. You could do some serious damage to your nose, throat or ears trying to stuff that sneeze.
The case that’s shining the spotlight on the practice comes out of England, where a 34-year-old man had to sneeze, then tried to put the brakes on by quickly pinching his nostrils and clamping his mouth shut.
The result was a small rupture of the top of the windpipe.
He later told doctors he immediately felt a popping sensation in his neck. He didn’t notice any problems right away, but a couple of hours later he felt pain in his throat and neck. When it became swollen and his voice changed, he took himself to the hospital.
When doctors examined him, they were able to literally feel crunchy pockets of leaked air in the soft tissues just under the skin of his neck and upper chest.
He was hospitalized for two weeks.
Fortunately, the leak eventually closed over and the man was released from the hospital after having a tube in his throat and receiving antibiotics.
Now sure, this is an extreme case. But you should remember that when you sneeze, it’s your body’s protective reflect to get rid of an irritant that has gotten into your nose. With a sneeze, a significant amount of air pressure builds up in the lungs and forces its way through the nasal cavity to get rid of that irritant. A good, solid sneeze can propel mucous droplets at about 135 – 150 mph.
That’s a lot of force and if you hold a sneeze back, that pressurized air will need to go somewhere.
In this case, it injured the tissue in the man’s throat. In past cases, doctors have also seen a stifled sneeze cause sinus problems, middle and inner ear damage, ear infections and a ruptured ear drum.
Another concern: collapsing a lung.
Your best bet? Let ‘er rip and use a tissue or the crook of your arm. It’s certainly better to be on the receiving end of a “Gesundheit” than a “Call a doctor!”
The case can be found in this week’s British Medical Journal Online Case Reports.
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