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Doctors issue sneeze warning over ruptured throat

WebMD UK Health News Brief
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
man sneezing

16th January 2018 – If you are ever in the habit of pinching your nose while closing your mouth to stifle a sneeze, be warned – you could do yourself a serious injury.

One man found himself in hospital after rupturing the back of his throat when he did so.

The saga is detailed in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

Snap, crackle and pop

Emergency care doctors in Leicester were initially puzzled when an otherwise fit 34 year old man explained he had developed a popping sensation in neck when he shut his mouth and held his nose during a powerful sneeze. This was accompanied by swelling, problems swallowing, and a change to his voice.

On examination, the doctors found that the increase in air pressure during the sneeze had ruptured the back of his throat.

They heard popping and crackling all the way down from the neck to his ribcage – a sign, they say, that air bubbles had found their way into the deep tissue and muscles of his chest.

The doctors checked for a condition known as Boerhaave's syndrome, after the 18th-century physician Herman Boerhaave, in which a tear develops in the food pipe, or oesophagus.

However, the diagnosis of a tear in the pharynx – the part of the throat behind the mouth and nasal cavity and above the oesophagus – was later confirmed by a CT scan.

'A dangerous manoeuvre'

The doctors explain such tears are rare, and usually caused by injury, or occasionally by vomiting, retching or heavy coughing.

The man was admitted to hospital because of the risk of serious complications, fed by a tube and given antibiotics into a vein until the swelling and pain had subsided.

After 7 days he was well enough to be sent home.

"Halting [a] sneeze via blocking nostrils and mouth is a dangerous manoeuvre, and should be avoided," the doctors caution.

They say doing so could lead to various complications including getting air trapped in the chest cavity between the lungs, perforating an eardrum, and even bursting a blood vessel in the brain.

Reviewed on January 16, 2018

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