Injuries resulting from a sneeze may seem unlikely, but Dr. Mark Cereceda, a chiropractic physician with Ceda Health, cites an example of someone who dislocated her neck and became temporarily paralyzed from this seemingly innocuous bodily function. It happened to 28-year-old Monique Jeffrey from Melbourne, Australia, following a particularly violent sneeze.
Doctors in the E.R. of the local hospital were not sure what had happened and referred Jeffrey to the Spinal Trauma Unit of a specialist hospital. According to the Herald Sun, the doctors there discovered that two vertebrae in her neck had become dislocated due to the force of the sneeze. Fortunately, there was no permanent damage to the spinal cord, and neurosurgeon Dr. Patrick Chan said that she would make a full recovery.
In spite of the unfortunate result of that sneeze, doctors say that you should never attempt to suppress a sneeze once the process has begun. Dr. Alan Wild, assistant professor of otolaryngology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine says, “I wouldn’t recommend suppressing a sneeze by any method, whether by pinching one’s nose or consciously sneezing into a closed throat.”
However, according to Dr. Wild, there is a difference between restraining the urge to sneeze, and trying to stop a sneeze in progress: “Rubbing the nose, breathing forcefully through the nose, and pressing on the upper lip below the nose may relieve the urge to sneeze, but once the sneeze starts, it is usually best to just let it go.”
So, what could happen if you decide not to follow the doctor’s advice? Dr. Wild says maybe nothing, since the injuries that could occur are usually connected to some underlying anatomical oddity. Even though the risk of injury may be low, you could be unlucky.
He cites the following examples:
- A violent sneeze by someone who had sinus surgery can push air into the space around the eye and cause it to bulge, or push air into the brain cavity and cause an intense headache— or even a stroke.
- A violent sneeze could cause a neck injury from a sudden extension of the neck.
- A violent sneeze can cause momentary incontinence.
Mark Cereceda of Ceda Health comments, “These are some very, very, very rare instances. I can’t stress that enough. But they are possible. You shouldn’t become fearful every time you feel a tickle in your nose, either. I’d be more worried about a shark attack in Montana than paralyzing myself when letting loose a sneeze.
What you should be wary of is the potential harm that holding in a sneeze can have on you. You can pop a blood vessel in your eyes, resulting in that unsightly blood spot in the white of your eye. You could rupture an eardrum, causing you to potentially lose your hearing. And, probably the worst scenario of all, is blowing a blood vessel in your brain due to the increase of blood pressure when you sneeze.”
“It’s better to just let it out. Just make sure you cover your mouth!” adds Dr. Cerceda.
According to Corey Binns of Livescience, the reasons why we sneeze are still not entirely clear to doctors. They believe that the sneeze reflex is important for getting rid of irritants like particles of pollution or allergens from our noses. But not all sneezes are related to things in the nose.
As Dr, Wild explains, “Many people sneeze when exposed to bright sunlight, while some people sneeze during sex, after administration of certain intravenous anesthetics, eating too much or with certain neurological diseases such as epilepsy. This type of sneezing is poorly understood.”
Whatever the cause, one thing is certain; as Dr. Mark Cereceda of Ceda Health advises, if you feel a sneeze coming – just let it out!