Stifling a sneeze can lead to a ruptured throat, according to new report published in the journal BMJ Case.
This research comes from an odd situation in England, where a 34-year-old man ruptured his throat while trying to stop a sneeze by holding his nose and shutting his mouth. The event left him hospitalized and barely able to speak or swallow.
After covering his face, the man felt a “popping” sensation in his neck that caused it to painfully swell up. That discomfort forced him to go to the emergency room, where doctors noted a crackling sound when they pressed on the skin on both sides of his neck. Further examination revealed that the noise extended down to the rib cage, a condition that occurs when air bubbles get into the tissue layer under the skin.
After performing a CT scan on the man, doctors found air bubbles trapped beneath his skin. Most of the bubbles were around the neck region, while some also sat in the chest compartment between the lungs. That led doctors to believe that the man’s stifled sneeze had torn a hole in the area where his throat connects to his esophagus.
“When you sneeze, air comes out of you at about 150 miles per hour,” said Anthony Aymat, a consultant at University Hospital Lewisham in London who was not involved in the study, according to The Huffington Post. “If you retain all that pressure, it could do a lot of damage and you could end up like the Michelin Man with air trapped in your body.”
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. He could eat soft food after seven days, and was discharged two months later with no lasting health issues.
Tears in the throat typically happen as a result of blunt neck trauma. However, they can also occur when people vomit, strain, or cough heavily. Now doctors know that sneezing can trigger them as well. The team warns that, while stifling a sneeze may be instinctive, it is better to simply let it go into a tissue or your elbow instead.
“Halting sneeze via blocking nostrils and mouth is a dangerous maneuver and should be avoided,” the authors concluded, according to Live Science.