A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Let it out: Don’t hold your sneeze in

Woman holding in sneeze

Typically, the effects of a silent sneeze are minimal, but some people may experience injury.

You’re in the middle of a big meeting and all of a sudden you feel your nose start to tingle. Instead of making the loud “ah-choo” noise of a sneeze, you decide to hold it in.

But silent sneezing may not be the best thing to do.

What happens if you silently sneeze?

Dr. Jeff Oswald, a family medicine physician at Marshfield Clinic, says he gets this question occasionally.

If anything happens during a silent sneeze, the effects are rare. Depending on the anatomy of your face, you may sustain a ruptured eardrum or break a superficial blood vessel in an eye. The more common side effect is injuring your neck or low back and developing acute pain.

“People will try to hold the sneeze in, resulting in jerking of the head and neck. Rarely, this could cause an injury to the neck or back,” Oswald said.

Other extremely rare consequences have included fracturing the larynx or voice box or injuring certain facial nerves.

Most of these injuries will heal on their own and result in no permanent damage.

“Rupture of the superficial blood vessel in the eye or eardrum usually takes about two weeks to heal,” he said.

However, Oswald said most individuals can sneeze silently without sustaining any injuries.

Hold it in or let it out?

Oswald says there are reasons why people choose to sneeze silently. The most common reasons involve a desire to be quiet or to not spread germs.

When a person sneezes, I recommend placing your mouth in the crook of your elbow – the ‘Dracula cover,’” he said. “This will prevent a person from spreading germs to other people. You also can quiet the sound of the sneeze that way.”

“Although complications of silent sneezing are rare and any complications you do develop will most likely heal in a relatively short time, I would recommend just letting the sneeze out into the crook of your elbow.”

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