Holding Back a Sneeze Might Just Kill You, Doctors Warn As Man Ruptures Throat

Next time you feel the need to sneeze this flu season, make sure you don't hold it back. A peculiar case of a sniffle-gone-wrong has highlighted the dangers of stifling a sneeze. Holding back the urge could just kill you.

A man in Britain has ruptured his throat by suppressing a particularly forceful sneeze.

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A man sneezes at a flower show in London, May 24, 2004. Holding back a sneeze, doctors warn, could be dangerous. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

This behavior, his doctors warn, could damage your ears or even burst a brain aneurysm. Attempting to be polite—in exceedingly rare cases—could be deadly.

According to an article published in BMJ Case Reports, the 34-year-old man turned up at an emergency department after pinching his nose and closing his mouth to stem his sneezing. He had felt a pop as the sneeze ripped through his throat and made his soft tissue swell. His throat began to hurt when he swallowed, and his voice changed.

In hospital, doctors heard a crackling as they felt the man's neck and breastbone. This was the sound of air bubbles trapped beneath his skin—a condition known as crepitus. Medical imaging showed air was leaking from his windpipe into his neck from the tear.

The rupture was so serious that doctors kept the man in hospital for a week. He was fed by a tube through his nose and treated with antibiotics in case of infection in the chest cavity. He made a full recovery.

"The patient was subsequently discharged with advice to avoid obstructing both nostrils while sneezing," the authors reported.

A ruptured throat is an extremely rare consequence of stifling a sneeze, the authors cautioned. Holding back a sneeze can cause ear damage, they wrote, and in some cases even the rupture of a brain aneurysm. While incredibly unlikely, this side effect could be deadly.

The authors warned: "Halting [a] sneeze via blocking nostrils and mouth is a dangerous maneuver and should be avoided, as it may lead to numerous complications."