Why is it better not to hold a sneeze?


The next time you feel a sneeze coming up your nose… clear it immediately (perhaps by stopping the mucus flow with a tissue or the bend of your elbow). Holding a sneeze can actually, although in very rare cases, have dangerous consequences, as happened to a Scot, whose clinical story was recently reported in a medical journal. BMJ Case Reports.

In an attempt to suppress an impulse while driving, the 30-year-old Scot suffered a spontaneous perforation of the trachea, a slightly flattened, elastic and flexible cylinder that connects the larynx to the bronchi.

Implosion. Perhaps to avoid being forced to briefly lose control of the road, the man stifled a sneeze by holding his nose while covering his mouth. However, he felt excruciating pain in his throat and went to the emergency room at Ninewells Hospital in the Dundee (Scotland) area.

The man presented to the paramedics with a suddenly swollen neck, was making ominous noises and was unable to control his movement, which are typical signs of those who have suffered a tracheal perforation after injuries or as a surgical complication. X-ray examinations of the soft tissues of the neck and chest showed the presence of trapped air and a hole in the trachea.

It all started from there. The patient’s chronological reconstruction of the event was essential for the diagnosis. The doctors were thus able to connect the accident with a held sneeze. When you close your nose and mouth at the same time, the pressure generated by sneezing in the upper respiratory tract can increase up to 20 times. And in very rare cases, tracheal or pharyngeal lacerations can occur (as happened to another patient in 2018).

Finished well. In his misfortune, the Scot escaped with 48 hours of observation in hospital and five weeks of rest, during which the wound to his trachea healed. He escaped the worst-case scenario, “which could have been a tracheal burst leading to suffocation or even bleeding into the brain,” he explained. Guardian Rasads Misirovs, the first author of the article and among the first to help the patient.

And then we need… But even without achieving these almost unique cases, the decision to hold back a sneeze is still counterproductive. Our body uses this involuntary breathing to quickly and immediately remove small foreign bodies (such as dust or pollen) and pathogens from the respiratory tract.


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