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The next time you get the urge to stifle a sneeze, you might want to rethink it. Though sneezing can sometimes be unpleasant, people who try to stifle one may face some significant health consequences, particularly if the sneeze is violent. You can attempt to avoid a sneeze when feeling that itchy sensation in the nose without causing harm, but those who close their mouth and pinch their nose shut as the sneeze is in progress can cause themselves harm.
One urban legend is that those who stifle a sneeze risk brain aneurysms. Evidence suggests that this is hard to prove, and if it does ever occur, rate of occurrence is extremely rare. Chances are you will not suffer a brain aneurysm by stifling a sneeze.
A person who plans to stifle a sneeze is not at risk for popping out his or her eyeballs. This is another urban legend associated with sneezing that really has no truth behind it. You would have to be able to sneeze with much greater force than is usual.
Stopping in mid-sneeze is dangerous, however, because the energy of the sneeze and fluids associated with it are attempting to make a rapid exit out of the nostrils. In fact, droplets may travel at a rate of 100 mph (160.92 kph). Quickly closing the nose in an attempt to stop a sneeze means the fluid can back up into the sinuses and into the ears, particularly the Eustachian tubes, the soft tubes that connect the middle ear to the back of the mouth. This can, at minimum, increase the risk for sinus or ear infections.
Additionally, those who stifle a sneeze, especially a violent one, can risk harming their eardrums. The force can cause the eardrums rupture, bleeding in the ears, and significant ear pain. Stifling a series of sneezes could result in detached retina, though this, too, is uncommon.
Though you shouldn’t stifle a sneeze, you should take precautions not to sneeze on others. Naturally, carrying tissue to help stop the progress of contagious droplets is the best choice. If, however, you is without tissue, sneeze into your inner elbow or upper arm, or directly into your hands. This is not the most sanitary, nor the preferred method for keeping other people healthy, but it is a better option than choosing to stifle the sneeze or sneezing on everybody else.
Stifling a sneeze can cause damage, but does not always do so. If you accidentally forget not to stifle the sneeze, chances are that you'll be fine. Since some risk does apply, however, it makes good sense to try to get into the habit of letting fly with a good "Achoo!"