A bizarre medical case suggests you might want to think twice before stifling that next sneeze.
A man ruptured his throat after trying to stop a sneeze, according to case report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), colourfully entitled “Snap, crackle and pop: when sneezing leads to crackling in the neck”
He was admitted to hospital after doctors found he had perforated his pharynx and he had to be fed via a tube for a week as he recovered.
“A previously fit and well 34-year-old man presented to the emergency department with an acute onset of odynophagia [pain and difficulty swallowing] and change of voice after a forceful sneeze,” wrote the authors of the case, which took place at Leicester Royal Infirmary in the UK.
“He described a popping sensation in his neck and some bilateral neck swelling after he tried to halt a sneeze by pinching the nose and holding his mouth closed,” according to the report.
Air was leaking through the rupture into his tissues and muscles, from his neck down into his chest, causing something known as crepitus: grating, crackling or popping sounds and sensations due to air under the skin.
An X-ray showed “streaks of air” in his throat and neck. A CT scan detected air in the tissue, mostly centered in his neck, but reaching as far down as the middle of his back.
The doctors concluded that the condition was caused by a pharyngeal tear, which is typically caused by vomiting, heavy coughing, retching or some kind of trauma.
The man was fed through a nasal tube for a week while he recovered in hospital.
The authors noted that such a case is rare—something echoed by other medical experts.
Dr. Zi Yang Jiang, a head and neck surgeon at University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, told AP such cases were an “exceedingly rare” occurrence.
But holding back a sneeze can produce surprising levels of damage, he said, resulting in trauma comparable to that of a gunshot wound to the neck. A collapsed lung is among the problems that can ultimately be caused.
“When you sneeze, air comes out of you at about 150 miles per hour,” Dr. Anthony Aymat, director for ear, nose and throat services at London’s University Hospital Lewisham told AP. “If you retain all that pressure, it could do a lot of damage and you could end up like the Michelin Man with air trapped in your body.”
The British man in the case study was able to eat soft foods after a week and had made a full recovery within 2 months, according to the report
“Halting sneezing via blocking [the] nostrils and mouth is a dangerous manoeuvre, and should be avoided,” noted the authors.