Shutting your mouth and holding your nose while you sneeze might not make your eyes pop out, but it could tear open your throat and cause your chest muscles to literally fizzle and crackle. At least, this is what happened to one unfortunate guy who obviously didn’t heed what many of us are told as children.
In a rather cringe-inducing case report in the British Medical Journal titled “Snap, crackle, and pop: when sneezing leads to crackling in the neck,” doctors report on an incident in which a patient managed to rupture his throat after stifling a sneeze by closing his mouth and pinching his nose at the same time.
The 34-year-old man turned up in an emergency room after reporting that when he prevented the sneeze, he developed a “popping sensation” in his neck, followed by immediate swelling. This, rather unsurprisingly, led to him being barely able to speak, finding it difficult to swallow, and being in some considerable pain.
While examining him, the doctors reported actually hearing cracking and popping noises emanating from his neck all the way down to his rib cage. This was surefire evidence that air bubbles had managed to inveigle their way into the deep tissue and muscles of the chest, a condition known technically as subcutaneous emphysema and pneumomediastinum.
This usually occurs when a person experiences significant trauma to the chest, wherein air from the lungs escapes into the chest cavity. This apparently can make the skin feel like Rice Krispies, as the air is trapped under the skin. Think about that next time you tuck into your cereal.
Due to the serious nature of the injuries, and the very real risk of deep infection in the chest cavity, the man was admitted to hospital. For seven days he was treated with antibiotics as the doctors waited for the swelling to go down, all the while having to be fed by a tube up the nose.
Eventually, the man was discharged with a clean bill of health and the doctors' recommendation that perhaps next time he shouldn’t hold both his nose and mouth when he gets a tickling sensation and needs to sneeze.
“Halting sneezing via blocking [the] nostrils and mouth is a dangerous maneuver, and should be avoided,” the authors of the report advise. “It may lead to numerous complications, such as pneumomediastinum [air trapped in the chest between both lungs], perforation of the tympanic membrane [perforated eardrum], and even rupture of a cerebral aneurysm [ballooning blood vessel in the brain].”