A POWERFUL sneeze can be embarrassing, particularly in a quiet environment. And sneezing attacks are even worse. Sometimes it seems that people around you are thinking, “Oh my God, I wonder what germs just came flying out!”
But whatever came flying out, it’s a good thing it did.
“Sneezing is a protective function of the body,” explains Dr Steffen Knopke, senior physician in the Department of Otolaryngology at Charite hospital in Berlin, Germany. Be it dust, a crumb or small insect – whatever it was that got into the nose but shouldn’t have is supposed to be expelled.
The foreign particle stimulates the trigeminal nerve in the nasal lining, which sends impulses to the sneezing centre in a part of the brainstem called the medulla. This immediately triggers a reflex in which the lungs rapidly fill with extra air, the respiratory muscles contract and the air is forcefully expelled – along with the irritant – through the nose and mouth.
While it’s not advisable to try to suppress a sneeze, you normally needn’t fear hurting yourself if you do, according to Knopke. Although in isolated cases the pressure in the head can reach dangerous levels, “this occurs very rarely,” he says. Usually the pressure build-up in a suppressed sneeze is about that of very high blood pressure.
However, doctors in Britain reported earlier this year that containing a sneeze by simultaneously pinching your nose and closing your mouth can cause substantial injury. A man who had done so went to a hospital complaining of strong pain when swallowing and serious difficulty speaking. He was diagnosed with a spontaneous perforation of the pharynx. – dpa