- A 34-year-old man was hospitalized for a week after he attempted to hold his mouth and nose closed to stop a sneeze, and wound up tearing a hole in his throat.
- Doctors say that while such an incident is rare, no one should hold in a sneeze.
- Here's expert advice for the right way to sneeze.
Doctors are using one man's sneeze-induced hospital stay as a cautionary tale to remind people to let impending sneezes loose.
The otherwise healthy 34-year-old man, who remains anonymous, was rushed to the hospital after trying to stifle a sneeze by pinching his nose and holding his mouth closed.
The sneezer showed up at an emergency room complaining he was having trouble swallowing and talking. It was the beginning of a seven-day stay, since exams and scans revealed the patient had burst a hole in his throat and sent air bubbles into the deep tissue of his chest. Doctors reported that they could even hear the sneeze-induced damage, since it prompted strange popping and cracking sounds from the patient's neck to his rib cage.
The man was put on antibiotics and given a feeding tube. After a week, doctors declared it safe to remove the tube and send him home, but cautioned the patient to "avoid obstructing both nostrils while sneezing," according to a case report published in the medical journal BMJ. The authors wrote that while such a case is rare, it's an opportunity for everyone to remember not to be bashful about their sneezes.
Why you should release your sneeze
Those pesky, involuntary nasal expulsions happen for a variety of reasons. In addition to sneezing to defend the body from allergens or due to illness, some people sneeze under bright lights, after eating too much, or even when they're sexually aroused.
"A sneeze is designed to expel foreign particles and irritants from your airway, particularly your nasal cavity, and is a protective reflex," Jonathan Moss of the Charlotte Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat Associates previously told Business Insider. Moss, a doctor, said he tells his patients to simply "let it fly!"
If you don't, that can lead to a host of rare but serious conditions, including trapped air in the chest, eyes, or brain; perforated eardrums and hearing damage; blood vessel clots and ruptures; or broken ribs.
The trick to sneezing the right way: Cover your sneeze.
Preferably that can be accomplished with a tissue, but a sleeve or elbow is still better than covering your face with your hands, which could spread the mucus coming out of your nose around when you touch things. Regardless of how you catch your sneeze, wash your hands for 20 seconds in warm, soapy water afterwards. (In a pinch, hand sanitizer does the trick, too.)
Even Miss Manners agrees that a full sneeze is acceptable social behavior: "Miss Manners would not like it to become common for sneezes to be met with cries of 'Arghh! Get away from me!'" she wrote in a 2010 column.
So go ahead and let those sneezes out. Your body (and your doctor) will thank you for letting them go.
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