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The Complications of Halting a Sneeze


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Although it would be exceedingly rare to suffer the consequences of halting a sneeze, nevertheless, the possibility exists. Other than suffering spontaneous perforation of the pyriform sinus, holding a sneeze has other complications.

The authors of a case report, published on Monday in BMJ, said that holding a sneeze may lead to complications such as pneumomediastinum, perforation of the tympanic membrane, and rupture of a cerebral aneurysm, Mashable reported. They noted that halting a sneeze by blocking the nostrils and mouth is a dangerous maneuver and must be avoided.

Feeding tube for 7 days

After he ripped a hole in his throat when he held back a sneeze, a British 34-year-old male patient had to be confined in a hospital and placed on a feeding tube for seven days while his throat healed. He was later discharged, and after two months, a check-up found there were no lasting complications because of the incident.

Dr. William Portnoy, an otolaryngologist, said that the force of a powerful sneeze can, at times, lead to complications. He explained that the pyriform sinus is a sort of pocket which goes alongside the voice box. It does not have a muscle to reinforce it because, basically, it is just a loose mucus membrane.

He compared it to blowing up a balloon. If the blower places too much force into it, the balloon can burst. The result is the saliva and air will enter the body where it does not belong and could cause serious complications. The authors from the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust said that after they examined the patient, they heard popping and crackling sounds that extended from the man’s neck to his rib cage.

It is a sign that air bubbles have found their way into the tissue and muscles of the patient’s chest. Dr. Douglas Chepeha, an ear, nose, and throat specialist at the University Health Network in Toronto, described the tear in the man’s throat as unusual.

Portnoy recommended to just let the sneeze happen. He advised not to worry if the mouth or nose is closed while sneezing. An irritation in the nasal cavity is the reason behind a sneeze. The body will forcefully attempt to discharge whatever is that irritant might be in the respiratory tree. However, Portnoy reminded people not to close both nose and mouth together when sneezing, or otherwise, it would invite trouble.

Flu cases

The advice of the doctors is timely because of the continuous rise in flu cases in western nations due to the cold weather, causing more people to sneeze, Times Colonist noted.

Chepeda noted that a suppressed sneeze could also build up pressure in the middle ear. But he said busting an eardrum that way is very rare. It could also rupture an undetected aneurysm or ballooning blood vessel in the brain.

Another risk is that it could cause the small surface blood vessels in the eyes and other areas of the head and neck to burst because of built-up pressure.

The unidentified man is not the first to suffer an injury because of holding a sneeze. Dr. Eric Monteiro, an ENT at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said that there was a report previously of elderly women who developed brittle bones in osteoporosis and developed vertebral compression fractures because of sneezing.

Kevin Pillar, a Toronto Blue Jay player and some major league baseball players have also been injured by sneezing. Pillar was placed on a 10-day disabled list when he sneezed which caused an oblique muscle strain during the 2015 pre-season.

Right way to sneeze

Monteiro said there is no right way to sneeze, but there is a wrong way to sneeze. The wrong way is by attempting to close the mouth and the nose which is generally not recommended because it inhibits the natural process. However, to prevent the spread of the flu virus or other air-borne bugs, Chepeda said that people should deliver the sneeze into their inner elbows. The mouth must be covered, but the best way is to cough or sneeze into your sleeve.

Eli Meltzer, an allergist, said that a sneeze is blown out at 40 mph. The droplets can reach 20 feet, while 40,000 droplets can come out when the sneeze is spritzed with the mouth and the nose, National Public Radio reported.

Dr. Neil Kao, an allergy and asthma specialist at the Allergic Disease and Asthma Center in Greenville, South Carolina, said that sneezes start in the nerves. While everyone’s nervous system is wired basically in the same way, the signals that travel along nerves can take slightly different paths to and from the brain. It results in different sneeze scenarios from person to person, WebMD reported.

He stressed that sneezing is an important part of the immune process because it helps the body to keep healthy and sniffle-free. It protects the body by clearing the nose of bacteria and viruses.

[메디컬리포트=Vittorio Hernandez 기자]


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