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Does my heart stop beating when I sneeze? © Daniel Bright

The life-threatening reasons you should never try to suppress a sneeze

Published: 26th November, 2021 at 11:00
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Let the sneezing commence...but do so with care. Gesundheit!

Aaaaachooo! Sneezing, also known as sternutation, is the rapid and involuntary expulsion of air from the lungs through the nose and mouth. When you inhale before a sneeze, the pressure in your chest increases. Then, when you exhale during the act, the pressure drops.


This causes a fleeting change to the heart rate, which quickly corrects itself. So, although you may feel like your heart has skipped a beat, the trusty muscle does not stop beating.

Sneezing can be good for you because it helps rid the body of respiratory irritants, such as pollen and dust. However, suppressing a sneeze, by holding your breath or pinching your nose, might even be bad for you.

One computer simulation found that, compared with a normal sneeze, it can raise the pressure inside the airways by up to 24 times, resulting in possible damage. Injuries can range from relatively minor, like a ruptured eardrum or burst blood vessel in the nose, to the life-threatening, such as the rupturing of a brain aneurysm, or the trapping of air in the diaphragm leading to the collapse of the lungs.

Remember: sneeze, but sneeze with care. The activity can propel droplets and germs at speeds of up to 160km/h (100mph), so always cover your nose and mouth!

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Helen Pilcher
Helen PilcherScience writer, presenter and performer.

Helen Pilcher is a tea-drinking, biscuit-nibbling science and comedy writer, with a PhD in cell biology.


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