Why Holding Back a Sneeze Can Be Dangerous

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We all have experienced holding back a sneeze to avoid embarrassment. But, just how much damage does holding back a sneeze cause?

A recent case study, suggests you should probably just let it rip, wherever you are. Just remember to cover your mouth.

Why Holding Back a Sneeze Can Be Dangerous
dangers of holding back sneeze / Copyright: Image by StockUnlimited

As Jen Christensen from CNN reported, a 34 years-old man in England was taken into the emergency room after a traumatic experience, while attempting to hold back his sneeze.

The man tried to stifle a sneeze by pinching his nose and closing his mouth. The man felt a popping sensation in his throat, his neck began to swell, and he had trouble talking and swallowing. After spending 7 days in the hospital, where he was fed with a nasogastric tube, the man made a full recovery. The incident was published in the British Medical Journal Case Reports.

But Why Was the Man Brought in the Hospital for Holding in a Sneeze?

When mucus, which is an allergen, or an object like an insect gets into the nose, the body’s instinct is to get rid of it immediately, thru a sneeze. The muscles between our ribs and diaphragm, contract to expel whatever’s in the nose. This is an automatic, and largely uncontrollable reflex, that is designed to keep the airway open.

Also, sneeze is very powerful. Depending on your lung capacity and the size of your nose, the force reaches 100 to 500 miles an hour. But holding your nose, or closing the mouth, means that all that air cannot escape, therefore, it has to go somewhere else, which could cause unexpected damage.

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“If one try to suppress or hold back the velocity of air coming up from the lungs, then this could cause damage to the middle ear, which is where the hearing bones are located,” cautions Jeffery Gallups, MD, director and founder of The ENT Institute in Atlanta. The force of the air that is being pushed at high speed into the Eustachian tubes, can affect the eardrum and the small bones that vibrate when we hear sounds, Cleveland Clinic explains.

But, whatever the cause, the study authors’ suggest that it is best to let your sneeze out. Just try to do it politely. A high-speed video analysis of a sneeze showed that an uninhibited sneeze makes a cloud of droplets, that is much larger and travels more extensively, than researchers previously believed. Also, it is capable of spreading pathogens even in the tiniest drop of sneeze mist.

Therefore, although you should sneeze with abandon, make sure to use a tissue, or into the crook of your elbow, if one is not available. Do not sneeze into your hand, because that is also a great way to spread your cold.


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