UPDATE (January 16, 2018) — Experts are warning that holding back a sneeze can cause serious physical damage in rare cases after a British man ruptured his throat after stifling a very powerful sneeze. The case study, published in the journal BMJ Case Reports, details a harrowing account of an otherwise healthy 34-year-old walking into a hospital complaining of difficulty swallowing and "a popping sensation" in his neck.
The patient admitted that his problems began after he attempted to stop sneezing by plugging his nose and closing his mouth. When doctors took a look at the situation in an X-ray, they were shocked to find air escaping from his windpipe into the soft tissue of his neck through the rupture. Fortunately, the man made a full recovery, but not before needing a feeding tube and antibiotics to treat his injuries.
The authors maintained that a ruptured throat is a rare consequence of holding back a sneeze. However, the fact that this happened to even one person is scary enough. Even more frightening: Experts say that this move could potentially be deadly in certain circumstances.
In other words, the next time you need to sneeze, please let it out!
ORIGINAL (July 10, 2017) — Whether you've just pinched your nose to hold in your sneeze because you're trapped in public with no restroom — or tissues — in sight or you just prefer to sneeze that way, perhaps you've followed said sneeze with a good wonder about whether or not that was good for your body. And having seen some of the gross things that can come out of the human body, you might wonder where the heck the contents of your sneeze go when you hold it in. Well, prepare to be shocked, disgusted, but ultimately relieved.
In an interview with Digg, otolaryngologist Dr. Dale Tylor revealed what's really going on in your body. Good news: Holding in a sneeze isn't as bad as you might think. Bad news: It's not that great for you either.
According to Dr. Tylor, "there can be a risk of injury if there is a violent sneeze, with air pushing into the region of the orbit or brain," she wrote. "We recommend that if you feel like you have to sneeze DON'T plug the nose and instead open the mouth and try to get the sneeze to come out as a cough."
Injuries, you say? Yes because sneezing releases pressure, and if you pinch your nostrils together, that pressure has to exit the body in some other way. Sometimes instead of going out, the pressure will go up into your sinuses and skull. Yikes! If you've got a particularly powerful schnozz, the pressure can actually cause cracks in the joints that keep your skull together. Terrified yet? The caveat here is that these breaks will normally heal themselves. Normally.
Dr. Tylor says holding a sneeze will not cause your eyes to pop out (phew!), but you could pop a blood vessel or rupture an eardrum. Thankfully, that's pretty uncommon.
The takeaway: Let's all just keep a pack of Kleenex handy, alright?