Don’t Stifle That Sneeze!

Let your body do its thing to get rid of irritants

02 Jan 2020 | 12:27

The next time you get the urge to stifle a window-rattling sneeze, you might want to reconsider. It could be harmful to your health.

Clamping your nostrils and mouth shut might avoid disturbing others. But it could damage your eardrums or sinuses or cause an ear infection.

Sneezes are surprisingly forceful. The sudden, powerful expulsion of air can propel mucous droplets at rates of up to 100 miles per hour.

Some people start to sneeze with the arrival of warm weather and allergies. A hallmark of allergy-related sneezes is sneezing two to three times in a row.

Allergist Rachel Szekely, MD, says to let those serial ah-choos roll.

“Occasionally, people will cause some damage to their eardrums or their sinuses if they stifle a very violent sneeze,” says Dr. Szekely, an immunologist in the Department of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine at Cleveland Clinic.

Some people sneeze because of colds. Colds may produce a yellowish nasal discharge that signals an infection.

It’s best for that discharge to move out of the body. Stifling a sneeze only keeps it in the body — and could move it further inside.

“By stifling a sneeze, you could push infected mucus through the eustachian tube and back into the middle ear,” Dr. Szekely says. “You can get middle ear infections because of that.”

Sneezing is a protective reflex. It means an irritant has gotten into your nose that your body wants to keep from getting to your sinuses or lungs. When you sneeze, your body is trying to rid itself of the intruder.

Some myths have grown up around stifling a violent sneeze. It won’t cause a stroke or blow out a kidney.

All the same, Dr. Szekely says, let your body do its thing and sneeze. Just cover your mouth and nose.

Source: Cleveland Clinic:

Fun facts about sneezes:
Sneezes are an automatic reflex that can’t be stopped once sneezing starts.
Sneezes can travel at a speed of 100 miles per hour and the wet spray can radiate five feet.
People don’t sneeze when they are asleep because the nerves involved in nerve reflex are also resting.
Between 18 and 35 percent of the population sneezes when exposed to sudden bright light.
Some people sneeze when plucking their eyebrows because the nerve endings in the face are irritated and then fire an impulse that reaches the nasal nerve.
Donna Griffiths from Worcestershire, England sneezed for 978 days, sneezing once every minute at the beginning. This is the longest sneezing episode on record.
Source: Library of Congress: