From Achoo to Ouch
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From Achoo to Ouch

Did you know that holding back a sneeze can land you in hospital? Learn which parts of your body are susceptible to damage from a sneeze, and how you can keep the “achoo”s at bay.

At the beginning of this year, the online edition of CNN reported that a 34-year old man in Britain had to be hospitalised for two weeks - all because he held in his sneeze!

This unnamed man, who was in good health, pinched his nose and kept his mouth closed during a forceful sneeze and immediately felt a popping sensation in his neck. Although he didn’t notice any problems right away, pain developed in his throat and neck a couple of hours later. When those areas became swollen and his voice changed, he decided that a hospital visit was called for.

By holding in his sneeze, the pressure had to go somewhere, and that place was through his throat: doctors found a small hole there! Fortunately, the poor guy didn’t require surgery, but had to be warded as he had to be fed through a tube and given antibiotics.

This sounds rather frightening for something as innocuous as a sneeze!

Sneezes are powerful

So why is sneezing so common yet potentially harmful?

This is because a sneeze can generate a violent force. The Live Science website explains that when something tickles your upper nose lining, nerves carry a message to your medulla; your eyes close, your chest contracts and your lungs expel air at speeds up to 161km/h! Thankfully, your heart goes on beating.

According to the HowStuffWorks website, if you try to hold in a sneeze, the air pressure will need to go somewhere, and it can go into your ear cavity instead, which can damage the eardrum. This could lead to hearing loss or prolonged giddiness. Because of the build-up of pressure, stifled sneezes could also cause:

  • bloods vessels in the eyes to rupture
  • urinary incontinence
  • neck injury
  • dislocation of an arm

In extreme cases, holding back a sneeze could also cause a rupture of blood vessels in the brain, leading to a stroke and then death.

Sneezes get rid of irritants

Although sneezing cannot be controlled and comes without warning, it serves a useful function: it is your body’s protective reflex of ridding irritants from the nose.

The nose helps to filter the air you breathe, catching foreign bodies before they are inhaled into your lungs. These foreign bodies may irritate the sensitive lining of your nose, triggering a sneeze. An irritated throat can also trigger a sneeze. The KidsHealth website informs that almost anything can irritate the inside of your nose or throat, but common causes include dust and pepper.

Another scenario for a sneezing fit is when you catch a cold. This is because the virus makes a temporary home in the nose, so it becomes swollen and irritated. People with allergies are also prone to sneezing, and allergens such as pollen and animal dander are common triggers. Other triggers for sneezing, highlighted by ePainAssist’s website, include blunt trauma to the nose, withdrawal from certain drugs, and breathing in cold air.

To avoid the sneezes, identify what brings them on, and stay away from those triggers. So if you are allergic to cats, stay away from cats; if dust is your trigger, clean your home more frequently or invest in a good air purifier. You could also take antihistamines and have a nasal spray handy, but do consult a doctor first. If you are down with a cold or flu, rest and drink plenty of water.

Sneeze stoppers

For those who believe in home remedies, here are some suggestions to stop the “achoo”s:

  • This is good for stuffed-up noses. Add four to five drops of peppermint oil into a large bowl of hot water. Put your head over the water, drape your head with a towel that is long enough to cover the bowl, then inhale the steam that rises from the water.
  • Drink two cups of fennel tea. Brew your own by adding fennel seeds into boiling water and let it steep for 15 minutes - but add the seeds only after the water has boiled. Take two cups daily until the sneezing stops.
  • Gargle warm water with black pepper powder (half a tablespoon). Drink the mixture two to three times a day until the sneezing stops.
  • Drink two to three cups of chamomile tea. It can be found quite easily in supermarkets. If you want to improve the taste of the tea, add some honey. Take two cups daily until the sneezing stops. ePainAssist says this is the best home remedy.

In conclusion, don’t dismiss a sneeze and what it can do to your health. But you don’t have to be paranoid either. Just stay away from the triggers and take measures to curb the sneezing. And if you have to, just do it! It is easier to deal with rude stares than a hole in your throat!


Knowing that holding back a sneeze could be harmful, the sensible thing to do is to let it fly when it comes on.

This would not be a problem if one is at home, but what happens when you are with your boss or at a posh dinner party? Sneeze into a handkerchief or tissue, or into the crook of your arm. This helps prevent the spread ofdisease.

Don’t forget to follow up with an apology to the people around you - it’s only courteous.