Health

Why You Shouldn’t Hold Back A Sneeze

Sneezing is a natural reaction to something irritating your nasal passage. Sometimes, when you feel a massive sneeze coming on, you may be tempted to try and hold it in. However, doing so could cause serious injury and should not be done.

Sneeze
By James Gathany (CDC Public Health Image library ID 11162) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

To Sneeze or Not

While not a common occurrence, the man was seriously injured while doing so. A 34-year-old, London,UK area man was admitted to the hospital for an injury caused by holding in a sneeze. He went in complaining of a popping feeling in his throat and was having problems swallowing. The pain started when he pinched his nose and closed his mouth to prevent himself from a forceful sneeze. The injury kept him in the hospital for a week, and caused him to lose his voice.

The Sneeze Force

Sneezing is a powerful bodily reaction. Doing so means, you’re letting air out at up to 100 miles per hour. Keeping that amount of pressure in your body is not advised and could trap that air in parts of your body where you shouldn’t have any. In the London man’s case, air bubbles had formed and traveled from his throat down into his rib cage. A major risk in this sort of situation is infection due to bacteria in the air. Another potential danger of repressing one is a collapsed lung. Doctors suggest simply sneezing, preferably into a tissue. Using a tissue prevents the bacteria, viruses and other microbes from spreading into the air around you. A single sneeze can include up to 300,000 of them!

The Science of Sneezing

A sneeze, also known as a sternutation, happens when something is in your nose that shouldn’t be. Whatever it is has irritated the mucosa, the interior lining of the body at openings to the surroundings like eyes, ears, mouth, nose, etc. When the mucosa in the nose is irritated it causes an involuntary, spasm which ejects a great deal of air rapidly in order to clear the irritation.

There are numerous instances that can cause one to sneeze including; a cold breeze, a rather full stomach, a viral infection, a quick fall in temperature, and exposure to a sudden, bright light. That last one accounts for people saying look up toward the sun (not directly at it!) if you feel a sneeze coming and it will help get it out.

Any time you need to sneeze, you should do so, regardless of how loud it might be. In fact, the louder the sneeze the better because you’re freely allowing those irritants to leave the body. Just be sure to have a tissue on hand whenever possible.

Did you Know?

You are unable to sneeze while in REM sleep? While something may cause you to wake up and sneeze, you cannot do it while in the REM state. This is due to REM atonia. It’s a complicated bodily process that prevents your motor neurons from activating by creating a state where they require a much larger impulse to do so. This is to prevent your body from flailing about in response to REM stimuli. It’s also what causes that groggy feeling and, at times, inability to move right when awakened from REM sleep.