Stifling a sneeze could be fatal, doctors warn

Last Updated 16 January 2018, 08:52 IST

Trying to stifle a forceful sneeze by pinching your nose and clamping your mouth shut may prove to be fatal, warn doctors including those of Indian origin after this manoeuvre left a man with a painful, ruptured throat.

Spontaneous rupture of the back of the throat is rare, and usually caused by trauma, or sometimes by vomiting, retching or heavy coughing, so the 34-year-old's symptoms initially surprised the emergency care doctors at the University Hospitals of Leicester in the UK.

The young man had developed a popping sensation in his neck which immediately swelled up after he tried to contain a forceful sneeze by pinching his nose and keeping his mouth clamped shut at the same time, according to doctors including Raguwinder S Sahota and Sudip Das.

A little later he found it extremely painful to swallow and all but lost his voice.

When the doctors examined him they heard popping and crackling sounds, which extended from his neck all the way down to his ribcage - a sure sign that air bubbles had found their way into the deep tissue and muscles of the chest, which was subsequently confirmed by a computed tomography scan.

Due to the risk of serious complications, the man was admitted to the hospital, where he was fed by tube and given intravenous antibiotics until the swelling and pain had subsided.

After seven days he was well enough to be discharged with the advice not to block both nostrils when sneezing in future.

"Halting sneezing via blocking nostrils and mouth is a dangerous manoeuvre and should be avoided," according to the doctors who published the findings from the case in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

It may lead to numerous complications, such as air trapped in the chest between both lungs, perforated eardrums, and even rupture of a ballooning blood vessel in the brain, they said.  

(Published 16 January 2018, 08:00 IST)

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