Science & Tech

Expert shares the grisly perils of sneezing – and risks of holding one in

Expert shares the grisly perils of sneezing – and risks of holding one in
Man tears hole in throat during sneezing
Bang Showbiz - Bang Bizarre / VideoElephant

Anyone who suffers from hayfever will know what it's like to sneeze so much, you feel as though your head’s about to explode.

But in the case of one unfortunate man, it wasn’t his head that did the exploding.

The man, based in Florida, had recently had abdominal surgery and his surgical scar wasn’t healing properly.

Then, while eating breakfast one morning, he sneezed and began coughing before noticing a wetness on his lower stomach.

He looked down and pulled up his shirt to discover that “several loops of his bowel had burst through his unhealed wound,” anatomical specialist Adam Taylor, revealed in a piece for the Conversation.

Luckily, the poor guy was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery where his bowels were returned to their rightful place.

Nevertheless, if you think he would have been better off suppressing the sneeze, you’d be sorely mistaken. It turns out that both sneezing and holding in the urge can carry pretty horrific risks.

Violent sneezing, for example, can cause the lung to herniate through the intercostal muscles between the ribs. Though, this usually happens at a point of weakness caused by serious health conditions including morbid obesity or diabetes, or as the result of smoking.

Sneezing can also tear the delicate tissues of the lungs and even, in some rare cases, the lining of the brain.

The latter of these can lead to a type of stroke known as a subarachnoid haemorrhage, which can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated promptly, Taylor, a professor at Lancaster University, also noted.

And even if you don’t tear this fragile lining, sneezing can still affect the brain – with some people left with weakness on one side of the body or visual impairments following a sneeze.

Sneezing can also lead to blood vessel issues, including tearing around the aorta which, if not treated, has a 50 per cent mortality rate within 48 hours of happening.

Plus, people commonly injure their backs while sneezing, and some even break the bones around their eyes. This type of injury, called a blow-out fracture, is typically caused by blunt force trauma, often from a golf, tennis or baseball to the eye.

Let that sneeze out – the chances are, you'll be fine(iStock)

Nevertheless, Taylor cautioned, we should not be tempted to stifle the need to sneeze.

Last year, a Scottish man held in a sneeze by closing his mouth and holding his nose (we’ve all been there), resulting in him tearing his windpipe.

Elsewhere, holding in sneezes has caused others to fracture facial bones, damage their voice boxes and tear protective lung tissues in their chests.

Still, there is at least one injury that a sneeze can’t possibly cause.

Despite what you may have been told, sneezing with your eyes open won’t make them pop out.

And yet, it’s important to stress that our bodies are generally well-adapted to sneezing, so such terrifying harms are rare.

Indeed, sneezing is a key protective mechanism that keeps potentially harmful invaders, including bacteria, viruses, and dust, out of our respiratory system.

Still, try telling this to someone like Donna Griffiths, who holds the record for the longest-ever sneezing fit, at a whopping 976 days, or Yi Yang, who once let out a sneeze measuring 176 decibels – the equivalent of a rocket taking flight.

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