If you feel a sneeze building up, whatever you do, don’t try to stop it by pinching your nose.
Doctors have revealed a man who did just that ended up blasting a hole through the back of his throat.
The 34-year-old, who has not been named, was taken to A&E in excruciating pain and barely able to speak or swallow after he held his nose and closed his mouth in a failed bid to stifle a sneeze.
He was kept in hospital for a week and had to be fed through a tube.
But the doctors, writing in the journal BMJ Case Reports, said the outcome could have been far worse – the explosive internal forces caused by holding your nose while sneezing can kill you.
The specialists, from University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, wrote: ‘Halting a sneeze via blocking nostrils and mouth is a dangerous manoeuvre and should be avoided, as it may lead to numerous complications such as pneumomediastinum [air trapped in the chest between the lungs], perforation of tympanic membrane [perforated eardrum] and even rupture of a cerebral aneurysm [potentially fatal bursting blood vessels in the brain].’
They said the patient, who had previously been fit and well, arrived at A&E complaining he was finding it extremely painful to swallow and his voice had changed after he tried to smother a forceful sneeze – in which air can travel at speeds of 100mph or more.
They added: ‘He described a popping sensation in his neck and some neck swelling after he tried to halt a sneeze by pinching the nose and holding his mouth closed.’
When doctors examined him they heard crackling sounds which extended from his neck all the way down to his ribcage – a sign that air bubbles had found their way into the deep tissue and muscles of his chest.
They ordered an urgent CT scan, which confirmed that the back of his throat – called the pharynx – had ruptured.
Because of the risk of serious complications, the man was admitted to the hospital, where he was fed via a 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 his nostrils when sneezing in future.
The doctors said the back of the throat is at risk of perforation during a sudden increase in pressure because the muscles are arranged in only one direction to assist swallowing.
They added: ‘Simultaneously obstructing both nostrils and mouth during sneezing should be avoided.’
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