A British man blew a small hole in his neck after holding in a sneeze. Doctors warn people not to hold sneezes in, as it can have potentially devastating consequences.

Lateral soft tissue neck radiograph showing streaks of air in the retropharyngeal region (black arrow) and extensive surgical emphysema in the neck anterior to the trachea (white arrow).

The young man, who was described as “previously fit”, felt a strong sneeze coming his way. He pinched his nose and tried to keep it in, and as a result, he managed to rupture the back of his throat. He basically ripped a hole in his neck, leaving him barely able to speak or swallow, and in considerable pain.

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He immediately went to a hospital (the Leicester Royal Infirmary), where he was admitted on the spot and was fed by tube and given intravenous antibiotics until the swelling and pain had subsided. Doctors didn’t want to take any risks, especially after the damage was confirmed by a computed tomography scan. He was released after seven days, as he slowly regained the ability to eat (soft) foods.

Doctors learned that the patient was holding in sneezes for pretty much his entire life.

“This 34-year-old chap said he was always trying to hold his sneeze because he thinks it is very unhygienic to sneeze into the atmosphere or into someone’s face. That means he’s been holding his sneezes for the last 30 years or so, but this time it was different,” case report author Dr. Wanding Yang said.
Spontaneous perforation of the pharynx is extremely rare and unusual, but it’s still possible. Doctors warn that it’s never a good idea to hold sneezes in. A sneeze can eject droplets at a velocity of 100 miles an hour. If you block the sneeze in, that pressure has to go somewhere. Usually, your body can handle it, but there’s no guarantee. UAMS audiologist Dr. Aliison Catlett Woodall, who was not involved with the study, says that stifling sneezes can cause a wide range of health complications, from sinus problems, middle and inner ear damage, ear infections and a ruptured eardrums to diaphragm injuries, ruptured blood vessels in the eyes, and ruptured or weakened blood vessels in the brain.

“Prior to a sneeze, a significant amount of air pressure builds in the lungs in preparation of being forced through the nasal cavity to clear irritants out of the nasal passages,” Dr. Woodall says. “If the sneeze is held in by pinching the nose or holding the mouth closed, this pressurized air is forced back through the Eustachian tube and into the middle ear cavity.”

Of course, sneezing can also spread germs, so when you sneeze, you can stop the spread using a napkin, a handkerchief, or in the lack of something else — your hand.

Journal Reference: Wanding Yang, Raguwinder S Sahota, Sudip Das. Snap, crackle and pop: when sneezing leads to
crackling in the neck.