You’ve probably held in a sneeze dozens of times without giving it a second thought.
After all, sometimes it’s just not convenient to let out a huge “achoo” when you’re in an important meeting or getting up close and personal with someone.
But here’s something that might make you want to rethink that habit: A man in the U.K. held in a sneeze and actually ruptured his throat in the process.
It’s all spelled out in a fascinating new report published in BMJ Case Reports. Apparently the unidentified man, who was 34 and fit at the time, tried to stop a forceful sneeze by pinching his nose and closing his mouth. He felt a popping sensation in his neck afterward, as well as some swelling in his neck, and had trouble swallowing.
The man went to the ER, where he lost his voice. When doctors examined the man, they heard a crackling sound in his neck, which they say is a sign that air bubbles had seeped into his chest. After running a bunch of tests, doctors discovered that the man had actually torn his pharynx, the part of your throat that connects your nose and mouth to your esophagus, when he tried to hold in the sneeze.
They ended up admitting him to the hospital, where they gave him antibiotics and a feeding tube until the tear healed. The man was eventually discharged a week later and told to avoid holding in a sneeze in the future. And apparently he ended up okay: During a two-month follow-up visit, he was feeling fine and had no complications from his issue.
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As you can imagine, this is super rare, although it can happen. When you sneeze, air pressure builds up in your lungs and is forced out of your nose, explains women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D. If you hold it in, that pressurized air, which is traveling at 100 miles an hour, has to go someplace else.
Of course, plenty of people have held in sneezes with no issue, but you could be rolling the dice. While tearing your pharynx is rare, some studies have linked holding in a sneeze and hearing loss, Wider says. “The pressurized air can get forced back through the Eustachian tube into the middle ear cavity, causing hearing issues,” she explains.
So, next time you have to sneeze, just let it fly. If it’s not the best time or situation, just cover your mouth with your hand or a tissue. Everybody sneezes, and it's way better than having to explain how you got injured from holding in a sneeze.