A man in the UK has learnt that politeness doesn’t always prevail after stifling a sneeze and rupturing the back of his throat.
A case report from UK medical journal The BMJ describes an otherwise healthy 34-year-old man who was hospitalised after holding back a sneeze by pinching his nose and closing his mouth. The forceful sneeze lead to spontaneous pharyngeal perforation, AKA an internal crack in his throat.
Initially, the man noticed a popping sensation in his neck, which then lead to voice loss and painful swallowing. And while pharyngeal perforation is rare, doctors in the journal warn that halting a sneeze is more dangerous than it looks. “It may lead to numerous complications,” they say. Air trapped in the chest (pseudomediastinum), perforated eardrums and ballooning blood vessels in the brain are all possible risks.
The unusual case lead us on to other questions, such as “what happens if you hold in from the other end?” Can holding in a fart cause similar damage? A ruptured bowel, perhaps? Not usually, gastro specialist Lisa Ganjhu of NYU Langone Health assures. “You pass gas 10 to 20 times a day, often without even realising it,” she tells WomensHealth magazine. “As you’re walking and going about your business, your body will pass the air,” she says. Only in cases of pre-existing colon obstructions can holding in wind cause any serious problems. “In that case, the colon blows up like a balloon because of the blockage. If there are any weaknesses in the walls, eventually it can burst.”
Thankfully for the unlucky “sneezing man”, as we’re calling him, intravenous antibiotics and seven days in hospital helped him back to good health. So, if you fear the same fate, the trick is to never hold back. Let it all out.