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Canada  

Don't stifle that sneeze!

With cases of flu continuing to rise in Canada, there's likely a whole lot of "achooing" going on across the country. But ear, nose and throat doctors advise against trying to stifle those sneezes, as such suppression can in rare cases lead to injuries.

One of the most serious is detailed in the journal BMJ Case Reports, published online Monday, in which a 34-year-old man from the United Kingdom ruptured his throat after pinching his nose and clamping his mouth shut to contain a forceful sneeze.

The post-sneeze trauma left the man in pain and barely able to speak or swallow.

When emergency care doctors examined the patient, they heard popping and crackling sounds extending from his neck to his rib cage — a sign that air bubbles had found their way into the tissue and muscles of his chest, the authors at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust write.

The unidentified man, who was treated in hospital for a week, was advised against repeating such a "dangerous manoeuvre" in the future.

"This tear in the throat is incredibly unusual," said Dr. Douglas Chepeha, an ear, nose and throat specialist at University Health Network in Toronto. "In my career, I've never seen anything like that."

However, he said there are a number of other injuries that could occur from trying to block a sneeze, though they, too, are relatively rare.

Impeding the release of air from the nose and mouth during a sneeze could rapidly increase the pressure in the lungs, forcing the air out and trapping it in the chest between the lungs — a condition known as pseudomediastinum.

A suppressed sneeze could also build up pressure in the middle ear, though Chepeha said bursting an eardrum that way is very rare. 

In the BMJ case report, authors point out that thwarting a sneeze — the body's attempt to eliminate such irritants as mucus or allergens in the nose — could conceivably rupture an undetected aneurysm, or ballooning blood vessel, in the brain.

And it could also cause small surface blood vessels in the eyes and other areas of the head and neck to burst due to built-up pressure, Chepeha said.

"In your nose itself, you can burst a blood vessel and get a bleeding nose."



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