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Holding In A Sneeze Can Be Dangerous

Sneezing is nature's defence against infections that enter your the body. When your body senses the entrance of something unwanted into your nose, your body makes you sneeze. These unwanted or irritants include dirt, dust, bacteria, pollen, smoke or mould [1].

Interestingly, when we sneeze, the bacteria or any harmful particle that tries to enter the body comes out with a force of 160 kilometres per hour. In this way, sneezing prevents you from getting any serious infections [2].

Fun fact, have you ever thought why the other person says 'Bless you' when one sneezes? Well, that's because sneezing may risk our lives if we stop it. In more clarity, when you sneeze, your heart stops for a millisecond or so it is said.

Let's explore the ways holding in a sneeze can affect your body.


Your Heart Stops Beating When You Sneeze: Is That True?

According to the UAMS' Department of Otolaryngology, your heart does not really stop when you sneeze [3]. While expelling foreign materials such as dust or pollen from your respiratory tract, the high pressure in your mouth causes your brain to result in the nerves producing extra mucus in your nose; which in turn helps in keeping foreign substances from entering your lungs [4][5].

Also, when you sneeze, the intrathoracic pressure (pressure within the pleural cavity - the thin fluid-filled space between the two pulmonary pleurae of lungs) in your body momentarily increases, which causes a decrease in the blood flow to the heart [6].

When this happens, your heart compensates for the lack of blood flow by shifting its regular heartbeat momentarily to adjust [7]. So while this is happening, contrary to popular belief, the electrical activity of the heart does not stop during the sneeze [8].

Basically, when you sneeze, your heart rhythm encounters some shifts with your next heartbeat being delayed a bit and that does not mean that your heart stops beating completely.


But, Why Should You Never Control A Sneeze?

Sneezing causes the air to come out of our nostrils at a speed of about 160 kilometres per hour. If you stop your sneeze, all this pressure will get diverted to another part of the body such as ears and may result in cracking your eardrums and causes loss of hearing [9].

And when one's body is undergoing any strenuous activity, like that of a sneeze, the windpipe pressure increases and when it is not released, the lack of an outlet can result in the pressure being distributed within yourself.

Holding in a sneeze can increase the pressure inside the respiratory system that can be 5 to 25 times higher than the force a sneeze produces. Hence, holding in this force can lead to several injuries and serious problems within your body [10].


What Are The Side Effects Of Holding In A Sneeze?

Some of the common side effects of holding in a sneeze are as follows [11]:

Middle ear infection: Sneezing help promote the release of bacteria from your nose [12]. And when the sneeze air goes back into the ears through the nasal passage, the bacteria and infected mucus can attack the internal parts of your ears, causing an infection.

Ruptured eardrum: Holding in the air pressure within your respiratory system can cause the air to move to your ears [13]. When this air with high pressure moves to your ear (middle ear and eardrums), the pressure will cause the eardrums to rupture.

Eye blood vessel damage: If you stop your sneeze, the pressure of the air can get trapped inside and may cause eye damage, as the blood capillaries in your eyes can also get hurt due to increased air pressure and loss of hearing [14].

Aneurysm: The pressure an potentially lead to the rupturing of a brain aneurysm, which can lead to bleeding in the skull around the brain [15].

Broken ribs: There have been reports of broken ribs, especially in older adults, as a result of holding in a sneeze [16].

Some of the other issues caused by holding in a sneeze are as follows:

  • Throat damage
  • Diaphragm injury
  • Damaged blood vessels in the eyes, nose, or eardrums

Sneezing In Public

Considering the rising number of infective diseases and the risk of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), there are certain things you must keep in mind while sneezing in public. It is impossible for you to hold in a sneeze all the time, and considering the risk of a ruptured eardrum or broken ribs, you gotta let one go.

Here are some hygiene etiquettes that you should be aware of, COVID-19 or not [17].
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Make sure you discard the used tissue in a wastebasket.
  • If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.
  • Remember to wash your hands after sneezing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Does holding in a sneeze kill brain cells?

A. No.

Q. Can holding in a sneeze cause a hernia?

A. In more cases, it can worsen a hernia and in some rare cases, it can.

Q. Is it possible to sneeze your brains out?

A. No.

Q. Can you sneeze with your eyes open?

A. Not really. The pressure released from your respiratory system is so strong that it makes it difficult to keep your eyes open.

Q. Has anyone died sneezing?

A. While there are no reports of deaths of people dying by holding in their sneezes, it's not impossible to die from holding in a sneeze.

Q. What happens when you sneeze while pregnant?

A. Sneezing during pregnancy does not pose a risk to mother or baby most of the time. Sneezing can, however, be a symptom of an illness or a more significant problem that may affect the baby.

Q. Can holding in a sneeze cause a heart attack?

A. No, neither sneezing nor holding in a sneeze will cause your heart to stop.

Read more about: sneezing allergy heart attack
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