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Medical Dangers of Sneezing

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

Explorations of medical mysteries
compiled by Marina Tsipis, Improbable Research staff

The Danger of Suppressed Sneezing
“Suppressed Sneezing as a Cause of Hearing Loss and Vertigo,” Harold F. Schuknecht and Robert L. Witt, American Journal of Otolaryngology, vol. 6, no. 6, November- December 1985, pp. 468-470. The authors, at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston, report:

Two cases of inner ear injury caused by suppressed sneezing are described....

CASE 1: This 23-year-old man, while suppressing a sneeze by clamping his nostrils, heard a “pop” in his right ear followed by severe vertigo, nausea, and vomiting that lasted for 15 to 20 minutes.... During the subsequent two years, he noticed intermittent unsteadiness precipitated by rapid head movements and physical exertion....

CASE 2. At the age of 58, this woman had a sneezing spell, which she  attempted to suppress by clamping her nostrils, and immediately experienced vertigo and right-sided hearing loss.... Common sense dictates that the nostrils should be covered but not clamped during sneezing.

A Sneeze Unto Silence
“Sudden Conductive Hearing Loss Following Sneezing,” Khalil Azem and David D. Caldarelli, Archives of Otolaryngology, vol. 97, no. 5, 1973, pp. 413-414.

This is a case report of sudden conductive hearing loss following sneezing. Surgical exploration of the middle ear revealed a fragmented stapedial foot plate. Stapedectomy was performed with a satisfactory result.

Fracture From a Sneezing Attack (1950)
“Fracture of Thyroid Cartilage During a Sneezing Attack,” P.T. Quinlan, British Medical Journal, vol. 1, no. 4661, May 6, 1950, p. 1052. The author, at Salford  Royal Hospital in Salford, England, reports:

I have been unable to find a report of any other case of fracture of the thyroid cartilage during a sneezing attack. How the fracture occurred has given rise to considerable surmise without any definite solution. The patient is sure that there was no direct trauma to the neck. He did shake his head violently backwards and forwards when sneezing. He was not wearing a collar, and his shirt was open at the neck without any front stud.

Fracture From a Sneezing Episode (2007)
“Fracture of Thyroid Cartilage After a Sneezing Episode,” Ainhoa Beato Martínez, Ángel Moreno Juara, and Julio J. López Moya, Acta Otorrinolaringológica Española, vol. 58, no. 2, February 2007, pp. 73-74. The authors, at Clínica Moncloa, Madrid, Spain, explain:

We present a case report of a thyroid fracture after a sneezing episode, with odynophagia, dysphonia, and neck pain. The examination showed oedema at the right vocal cord and haematoma at the right false vocal cord. An anterior thyroid fracture without displacement, and a subcutaneous emphysema could be seen on the CT. Thyroid fracture because of this aetiology is most exceptional.

Detail from the study “Fracture of Thyroid Cartilage After a Sneezing Episode.”


This article is republished with permission from the January-February 2017 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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