You know the feeling: You’re about to sneeze, but don’t want to spread germs so you try to hold it in. But let this man’s experience be a lesson that forcefully holding in a sneeze may not be a great plan – considering you could rupture the back of your throat in the process.
A 34-year-old man recently did just that and ended up in the emergency room in a Leicester hospital in the U.K., according to an article published Monday in BMJ Case Reports. Doctors wrote that the man’s symptoms surprised medical professionals at first, given that spontaneous rupture like this is rare and brought on typically by trauma, vomiting, retching or intense coughing.
The man told doctors he was trying to halt a sneeze by pinching his nose and clamping his mouth shut simultaneously. This resulted in a popping sensation in his neck that swelled up following his attempt. Later, swallowing became painful and he practically lost his voice.
Upon examination, doctors heard popping and crackling sounds from his neck to his rib cage, meaning that air bubbles were in his chest. When a scan confirmed this diagnosis, they admitted him to the hospital due to his risk of serious complications.
“When you sneeze, air comes out of you at about 150 miles per hour,” Dr. Anthony Aymat, director for ear, nose and throat services at London’s University Hospital Lewisham, told the Associated Press. “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.” Aymat didn’t work on the case.
The man received tube-feeding and IV antibiotics until the pain and swelling went away. Doctors discharged him after a week – and advised him not to repeat this behavior again. Instead of holding in a sneeze, doctors recommend just sneezing into a tissue. The patient didn’t face any complications or see the problem recur after a two-month follow-up.
To avoid a situation like this, the doctors offered several points of caution. “It may lead to numerous complications, such as pseudomediastinum [air trapped in the chest between both lungs], perforation of the tympanic membrane [perforated eardrum], and even rupture of a cerebral aneurysm [ballooning blood vessel in the brain],” they wrote.
And if you’re about to sneeze right now, just let it out.