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Is It Unhealthy to Stifle a Sneeze?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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!"

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon359668 — On Dec 19, 2013

I never stifle sneezes. When you have to sneeze, you have to sneeze. There's no avoiding it. I always make sure I do it in my elbow or excuse myself and go outside or in the bathroom if I have to, though.

By anon312097 — On Jan 05, 2013

My wife stifles her sneezes for some reason, and it scares me for the reasons above.

I think people must think it's rude to sneeze loudly for some reason. But I think it's great to sneeze with gusto!

By anon123974 — On Nov 04, 2010

When i sneeze i close the path that leads to my nose. i don't know how to explain it but its kind of like when you swallow so that no fluids or food go in that direction. It's the same valve that closes up when you snore if that is of any help.

It hurts when i do it but the force of the sneeze lessen by a great amount. Should i stop doing this?

By anon122181 — On Oct 27, 2010

@anon81446. I hope that your son is doing better. I wish him a speedy recovery!

By anon81446 — On May 01, 2010

OK you can say that, however I have spent hours in the ER just last night. My son stifled a sneeze and has been hemorrhaging ever since. They excavated a blood clot that was about a cup of blood and sent us home.

He's still bleeding but because it's the weekend EMTs don't work so we are waiting another two days to get in to a doctor who can tell us why he's still bleeding down his throat a day later.

By anon49051 — On Oct 17, 2009

i love this site!

By anon47403 — On Oct 04, 2009

There are so many good things on this website. You did a good job making this.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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