Last updated January 23, 2018 at 1:25 pm
It’s only the third week of January but there is an early contender for the most obvious statement of the year. According to doctors, pinching your nose while clamping your mouth shut to contain a forceful sneeze isn’t a good idea.
One man in the UK managed to rupture the back of his throat doing exactly this, leaving him barely able to speak or swallow, and in considerable pain.
Spontaneous rupture of the back of the throat is, unsurprisingly, rare. Usually emergency doctors see it as a result of trauma, or sometimes by vomiting, retching or heavy coughing. So when the 34-year-old arrived at the ED after sneezing, they were initially surprised.
The young man explained that he had developed a popping sensation in his neck which immediately swelled up after he tried to contain a forceful sneeze by pinching his nose and keeping his mouth clamped shut at the same time.
A little later he found it extremely painful to swallow and all but lost his voice.
Air bubbles found their way into deep tissue
When the doctors examined him they heard popping and crackling sounds, which extended from his neck all the way down to his ribcage – a sure sign that air bubbles had found their way into the deep tissue and muscles of the chest.
Because of the risk of serious complications, the man was admitted to hospital, where he was fed by 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 both nostrils when sneezing in future.
“Halting sneezing via blocking [the] nostrils and mouth is a dangerous manoeuvre, and should be avoided,” caution the authors. Obviously.
“It may lead to numerous complications, such as pseudomediastinum [air trapped in the chest between both lungs], perforation of the tympanic membrane [perforated eardrum], and even rupture of a cerebral aneurysm [ballooning blood vessel in the brain],” they explain.
People chugging soft drinks have ruptured the oesophagus
Australian emergency department doctor Dr Michelle Boekelaar said that this type of case is exceedingly rare.
“It’s not a common injury by any stretch, but a sneeze causes air to be expelled at high speed. If there’s nowhere for it to go because you’re forcing your mouth and nose shut, it causes high pressure in a confined space,” Dr Boekelaar said.
“It takes the path of least resistance, whether that is releasing your grip on your nose, or in this case damaging the delicate tissue of his throat.”
She left with a follow-up warning. “It’s more commonly seen with divers who are holding their breath. But there are also similar cases of people chugging soft drinks and rupturing their oesophagus.”
Just don’t do it, folks.
The case study has been published in BMJ Case Reports.