By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) – If you ever tried to be extra polite by stifling a sneeze, think twice — quickly. You could do some serious damage to your nose, throat or ears trying to stuff that sneeze.

The case that’s shining the spotlight on the practice comes out of England, where a man had to sneeze, then tried to put the brakes on by quickly pinching his nostrils and clamping his mouth shut.

The result was a small rupture of the top of the windpipe. Not good.

british medical journal Stifle A Sneeze? Dont Even Think About It

Airway Rupture (courtesy British Medical Journal)

In the minutes after he first sprung a leak, the man felt little discomfort. Then over the course of days began to lose his voice and have problems swallowing.

When doctors examined him, the were able to literally feel crunchy pockets of leaked air in the soft tissues just under the skin of his neck and upper chest.

Fortunately, the leak eventually closed over and the man was released from the hospital after a week of having a tube in his throat and receiving antibiotics.

In the X-ray, the arrows point to air where air should not be.

Now sure, this is an extreme case. But you’ve got to remember a good, solid sneeze is trying to make it way out at about 135-150 mph. That’s a lot of force.

Besides rupturing your throat, more common issues involve injuring a sinus in your face, or rupturing an eardrum by forcing all of that air back up into your head. Another concern: collapsing a lung.

Your best bet? Let ‘er rip and use a tissue or the crook of your arm. It’s certainly better to be on the receiving end of a “Gesundheit” than a “Call a doctor!”

The case can be found in this week’s British Medical Journal Online Case Reports.

Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4’s Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida


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