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Why Holding Back a Sneeze Could Leave You Seriously Injured

By Hoku Krueger ; Updated January 17, 2018

When you feel a sneeze coming on this flu season, be sure to let it all out — doctor’s orders! You don’t want to end up like an anonymous 34-year-old man in Britain who ruptured his throat by pinching his nose and keeping his mouth shut as he sneezed, landing him in the hospital for a week. Ouch!

The incident prompted ear, nose and throat specialists at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust to publish a report titled “Snap, crackle and pop: when sneezing leads to crackling in the neck.” Ew.

According to the report, the man developed a popping sensation in his neck along with intense swelling in his throat after trying to contain a sneeze. He found it painful to swallow and could hardly speak, so he decided to seek emergency care.

“This 34-year-old chap said he was always trying to hold his sneeze because he thinks it is very unhygienic to sneeze into the atmosphere or into someone’s face,” case report author Dr. Wanding Yang tells CNN. “That means he’s been holding his sneezes for the last 30 years or so, but this time it was different.”

Doctors quickly spotted the swelling, then heard crackling and popping when examining the man’s neck and breastbone. A scan later confirmed that small air bubbles were lodged in the deep tissue and muscles of his chest. Medical imaging revealed that air was leaking from the man’s windpipe into his neck because of a rupture caused by the sneeze, Newsweek reports.

Though the man’s condition was serious enough to keep him in the hospital for a week, he didn’t require any surgery. Instead, he was fed by a tube through his nose and put on antibiotics while his windpipe healed.

The man’s injury may be unusual, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get away scot-free if you suppress a sneeze. Significant air pressure builds in your lungs before a sneeze, and holding it in doesn’t simply make it disappear. Instead, that air is forced back into your ear’s middle cavity. So stifling an “ahchoo” can leave you with ruptured blood vessels in your eyes, sinus problems, middle- and inner-ear damage, ear infections and even a ruptured ear drum.

Like most people, you’re not keen on spreading germs — but that doesn’t mean you have to resort to holding it all in. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend either sneezing into a tissue or the crook of your elbow, which allows you to avoid getting bacteria on your hands and, subsequently, everything you touch.

As for the anonymous man? He made a full recovery and was advised by doctors not to pinch his nose for future sneezes. Let ’em rip! (Our words, not those of the medical professionals.)

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