Trying to Hold That Sneeze In? Better Not if You Know What’s Good for You
Is your first instinct to stifle that sneeze? Don’t! Our expert explains why.
It’s second nature for us to want to stop those sneezes. And since the arrival of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the urge to prevent them has grown even stronger.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
We try to suppress sneezes so we don’t spread germs or disrupt those around us. But holding them in could cause more harm than you know.
“While sneezing plays a major part in the spread of infection, it’s also necessary for removing irritants, allergens and other foreign debris from the sinuses,” says allergy and clinical immunology specialist, DeVon Preston, MD. “If we didn’t sneeze, our bodies could allow potentially damaging substances into our sinuses or lungs.”
As we move towards allergy season, sneezing is often a presenting symptom and can occur in rapid succession. While you might be conditioned to hold those sneezes in, we say let ‘em rip.
We could spend days outlining the physics, mathematics and dynamics of a sneeze, but we’re not going to do that to you. Needless to say, a sneeze can travel over 70 miles per hour, with incredible force behind it.
Holding in a sneeze can lead to all sorts of damaging outcomes such as an eardrum ruptures and throat (pharynx) ruptures.
“Some people might sneeze because of viral or bacterial infections. If you don’t sneeze, mucus can accumulate and be forced back into the Eustachian tubes,” says Dr. Preston.
Eustachian tubes are small passageways that connect the throat to the middle ear. These tubes open when you swallow, yawn or sneeze so air pressure or fluid won’t accumulate in your ears.
“Pushing infected mucus back into the Eustachian tubes could cause a middle ear infection,” says Dr. Preston. Middle ear infections can lead to holes in the eardrum — and those holes tend to require surgical repair. That’s a lot to deal with considering the alternative of just letting sneezes out to prevent things from getting to this point.
With everyone making a conscious effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, you might be afraid to let out those forceful sneezes. But don’t stop your body from doing its job. Just make sure that you cover your mouth and nose during those sneeze bombs. Also, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and wipe down nearby surfaces once those sneeze sessions are over.