Imagine bringing your car to racetrack-level speeds on the interstate, and then slamming on the breaks. The tires would smoke and squeal, the car would lurch, and all passengers would brace themselves for possible impact.
Stopping a sneeze can have a similar impact on the body, according to Dr. Joseph Donzelli of Midwest ENT Consultants – an ear, nose and throat practice with four locations in Chicago’s West Suburbs.
“A sneeze can propel air at speeds up to 100 mph, so an individual should never physically try to stop a sneeze,” says Dr. Donzelli. Studies show that plugging your nostrils and closing your mouth during a sneeze can generate pressures of up to 176 mmhg in the nose. So, your nose connects to your Eustachian Tube, which connects to your middle-ear and so, you could also push things through the Eustachian Tube and back into the middle ear. Mucus that’s infected and you can get middle ear infections because of that.
Occasionally, people will cause some damage to their eardrums, maybe their sinuses, if they stifle a very violent sneeze. Case reports link the high pressure created by sneezing to hearing loss, glaucoma, and blood clots in the brain. Doctors say one California woman had a stroke caused by the sudden neck movement of a sneeze. The sneeze reflex is thought to originate inside your nose.
So, as we move into flu and cold season, and sneezing occurs with increasing frequency, it’s important to know what causes sneezing and the impact that stopping a sneeze can have on our bodies.
Dr. Donzelli says sneezing is a natural physical response that allows your body to clear unwanted items or irritants from your nose, and when you stop a sneeze, there are negative effects.
“The nose and mouth are the last chance to stop a sneeze,” Dr. Donzelli said. “Stopping a sneeze in these areas can result in the back up of pressure into your sinuses and potentially into your ears via the eustachian tube. If you stop the sneeze at the voice box, you will create a valsalva, raising thoracic pressure much like what occurs with a hard cough.”
Typically, allergies are the root cause of sneezing, Dr. Donzelli says, which means that individuals can usually treat the cause. Reducing interaction with the following irritants also can prevent persistent sneezing:
- If you have pets, be sure to brush them and vacuum your home frequently to avoid animal dander.
- Regularly remove dust from your house, even from hard to reach places like fan blades and behind furniture.
- Remember to replace your air filter and keep extra filters on hand.
When you sneeze, your body is trying to clear out your pharynx-and that’s a good thing. To help the sneeze come out, look at a bright light. This stimulates the optic nerve, which crosses wires with the sneeze center. The added irritation of an adjacent nerve will get the sneeze going.