Stifling a sneeze can rupture your pharynx, doctors warn

Holding back a sneeze by pinching your nose while keeping your mouth closed may cause physical injury, doctors writing in the journal BMJ Case Reports have reaffirmed.

In one such documented case, an otherwise healthy 34-year-old man in the U.K. suffered a tear in the back of his throat after sneezing while stifling it, by sealing both airways.

The man was left barely able to speak or swallow and was in “considerable pain,” so he went to a hospital emergency department, the report released on Monday said.

He explained his neck had become swollen after he tried to contain a forceful sneeze while keeping both nostrils and mouth closed.

Doctors who examined him heard popping and crackling sounds, which extended from his neck all the way down to his ribcage.

A scan showed the man’s sneeze had inadvertently created a tear in his pharynx, or back of the throat, and it confirmed the sound they heard was caused by air bubbles that had found their way into the soft tissues of the chest.

The patient was then admitted to hospital where he was tube-fed and given intravenous antibiotics for seven days until the swelling and pain had subsided.

“Halting sneezing via blocking nostrils and mouth is a dangerous manoeuvre and should be avoided,” the authors of the report caution.

They say that method may lead to numerous complications,such as pseudomediastinum (air trapped in the chest between both lungs), perforated eardrum and even rupture of a cerebral aneurysm.

The doctors say spontaneous rupture of the pharynx is rare and usually caused by trauma, sometimes by vomiting or heavy coughing.
Photo: He’s doing it wrong. Former German finance minister Peer Steinbrueck sneezes as he arrives for a cabinet meeting in Berlin back in 2008. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

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