Eeewww! Man sneezes, rips his own throat open


Fear of letting loose can result in severe injury, doctors warn. Andrew Masterson reports.


German chancellor Angela Merkel holding in a sneeze. Doctors advise that this is a very bad idea.
German chancellor Angela Merkel holding in a sneeze. Doctors advise that this is a very bad idea.
ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

We’ve all done it – tried really, really hard to suppress the explosive reflex that epitomises a sneeze. It’s a perfectly understandable – and socially laudable – intent. After all, the average sneeze can propel as many as 40,000 100-micron droplets out of your nostrils at around 300 kilometres an hour.

No one wants to be responsible for delivering that kind of payload, unconstrained and in public.

Trying to hold it in, however, by firmly closing your mouth and pinching your nose, can have severe consequences.

A case report published in the British Medical Journal details the unfortunate case of a 34-year-old gent who was successful in such an exercise. In stopping something highly energetic coming out one set of holes, however, he set up a classic case of an immovable head meeting unstoppable snot.

In the end, the head turned out to be the lesser of the two forces and the sneeze made its way out by effectively creating another hole – in the back of the man’s throat.

It was a painfully explosive event, prompting a speedy trip to hospital.

In a description written by Wanding Yang, Raguwinder Sahota, and Sudip Das, all of the department of head and neck surgery at the University Hospital of Leicester in the UK, the man was hastily admitted, suffering from a spontaneous pharyngeal rupture, emphysema, neck swelling, and abnormal pockets of air pumped into his flesh from the base of his skull to most of the way down his thorax (as far as vertebra T9, in fact).

Perhaps not surprisingly, he couldn’t speak very well, either.

The attending doctors diagnosed injury by sneeze after ruling out prior mishap or surgery to his neck, and noting that “he denied having eaten anything sharp”.

Because of the severity of the soft tissue damage and the associated risk of infection, the patient was admitted to the wards, where he was “treated conservatively with enteral feeding via a nasogastric tube and prophylactic intravenous antibiotics.”

The feeding tube remained up his nose for seven whole days, until his throat had healed sufficiently to allow him to start eating soft foods again.

Yang and his colleagues conclude: “The patient was subsequently discharged with advice to avoid obstructing both nostrils while sneezing.”

  1. https://www.livescience.com/3686-gross-science-cough-sneeze.html
  2. oi:10.1136/bcr-2016- 218906
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