Is it Bad To Hold in A Sneeze?
You’re at a work event. You’ve just eaten a tuna canape with green bits all over it. You’re laughing, and then you feel it come: your eyes being to water, you screw up your nose, and you desperately need to sneeze.
Do you try and hold it in, and risk looking like you’ve smelled the world’s worst fart, or do you let it blow with the chance of spraying your co-workers with half-digested tuna?
According to Richard Harvey, professor of rhinology at the University of New South Wales and Macquarie University, the answer is simple: let out the sneeze, because holding it in can have complications for some people.
“My first question is – why would you want to [hold in a sneeze]? I understand in some social situations it’s impolite, but a sneeze is a reflex action that’s a protective mechanism, much like a cough,” Harvey tells Coach.
“For a few people with certain underlying risk factors, it can potentially be harmful to hold in a sneeze.”
According to Harvey, those stories you read online about exploding brains and eyeballs from holding in a sneeze are potentially true – but the act of holding in a sneeze isn’t really to blame.
“There are some stories of a sneeze preceding an aneurysm and burst blood vessels, but this isn’t the sneeze’s fault in that it’s likely the patients had underlying risk factors and the sneeze was simply an extra bit of strain that set them off,” explains Harvey.
“This is because if you forcibly hold in a sneeze you can get something called a vagal response, which is associated with a sharp drop in heart rate – like when people see blood and feel woozy or dizzy.”
In those instances, Harvey says holding in a sneeze simply created an excess amount of strain on a body that wasn’t quite ready for it – and the same strain could’ve happened with events like a sharp cough, a sexual climax, or even lifting heavy at the gym.
But most of us don’t have any underlying risk factors, and simply want to avoid sending projectile boogers across the office. (Fun fact: a sneeze launches mucus from your nose at 160km an hour, and can send it as far as nine metres! Take that, Janice from HR!)
There are a couple of ways to put the kibosh on that imminent sneeze.
“If you’re the type of person who absolutely needs to hold in a sneeze, there are a few ways to stop it in its tracks,” says Harvey.
“The first is taking a really deep breath in and out, and the second is pinching the bottom of your nose and rubbing.
“You don’t want to try holding your breath as this will likely make the sneeze happen anyway.”
According to Harvey, instead of waiting until you have a sneeze rocketing up your windpipe to decide whether you want to stifle, you could avoid situations that cause them – and they’re quirkier than you think.
“There are a couple of interesting situations that make us sneeze that don’t involve sniffing pepper or walking into a smoky bar,” explains Harvey.
“For some people, transitioning between a cold environment into a hot environment – like walking out of a heavily air-conditioned office – is enough to prompt a sneeze.
“For others, a sneeze is triggered when they move from a dark room to bright sunlight – this is why you see people sneezing at the beach.”
Of course, if you’re a normal functioning human, the decision to let a sneeze happen doesn’t have to correlate to throwing your head forward and spraying others with your nose dingle berries.