Here’s a Perfect Example of Why You Shouldn’t Stifle Your Sneeze

A 34-year-old man in England ruptured his throat when he tried to stop a sneeze. This X-ray shows streaks of air at the back of the throat (black arrow), and air bubbles under the skin in the neck region (white arrow).

Credit: Wanding Yang, Raguwinder S Sahota, Sudip Das/CC BY-NC 4.0 

Before you try to stifle your sniffle to avoid a loud, snotty sneeze, heed some advice from a 34-year-old man in England who ruptured his throat while trying that trick: Don’t do it.

The man ended up hospitalized and barely able to speak or swallow after he tried to stop a sneeze by holding his nose and shutting his mouth, according to a new report of his case.

Performing the maneuver caused a “popping” sensation in his neck, so the man went to the emergency room, the report said. He was in considerable pain, and his neck was swollen.

When doctors examined him, they noted a crackling sound when they pressed down on the skin on both sides of his neck, and this sound extended down to his rib cage. This symptom, known as crepitus, can happen when air bubbles get into the tissue layer under the skin. [Ah-CHOO! 7 Tickling Facts About Sneezing]

Indeed, when doctors performed a CT scan, they saw air bubbles trapped beneath the man’s skin, mostly in the neck region, the report said. The scan also showed air bubbles in the chest compartment between the lungs — a condition known as pneumomediastinum.

The doctors determined that the man’s stifled sneeze had torn a hole in the bottom part of his pharynx, or throat, where it connects to the esophagus.

The man was admitted to the hospital, where he was treated with antibiotics because of the risk of infection from the tear, and he was fed through a tube.

Over the next seven days, the man’s symptoms gradually improved, and he was able to eat soft foods.  He was soon discharged from the hospital, and two months later, he had no health problems from the incident.

A tear in the pharynx most often occurs when people experience some kind of blunt trauma to the neck, according to the report. But in rare cases, it can happen in people when they vomit, strain or cough heavily. And in this case, it was due to a forceful sneeze.

“Halting sneeze via blocking nostrils and mouth is a dangerous maneuver and should be avoided,” the authors concluded.

The report was published today (Jan. 15) in the journal BMJ Case Reports.


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