Just let it out.
Just about every little weird thing your body does (from hiccups to dreaming) has a purpose. Prime example: sneezing.
This bizarre behavior is yet another way the body protects itself from intruders. In the case of sneezing, intruders are pollen, mold, powders, and infected mucous, to name a few. When the body detects these in your airways, it tries to force them out through a sneeze.
But when you’re in a quiet meeting or networking with someone important at a cocktail party, sneezing (especially if you’re someone who sneezes multiple times in a row) can be awkward or embarrassing. So it’s no surprise that people try to hold in a sneeze from time to time. Harmless, right?
Your sneezes build up air pressure in the lungs as you prepare to sneeze. That air has to go somewhere, and it’s usually out the ears. Although quite rare, some severe risks of holding in a sneeze include damage to the blood vessels, ruptured ear drums, hearing loss, or vertigo.
Even though these complications are super unlikely, it’s always a good idea to let your body do its thing: sneeze, yawn, hiccup, and use the bathroom when you gotta go. Your brain is getting the signal for a reason, so don’t be shy. Sneeze away!
Instead of holding in a sneeze, simply cover your mouth and nose, preferably with your elbow. This “Dracula method” is recommended over covering your mouth with your hand because you’re less likely to touch something with the crook of your arm, so you’ll further reduce the spread of germs post-sneeze.
Can Holding in a Sneeze Cause Hearing Damage? Little Rock, AR: University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. (Accessed March 31, 2017 at https://uamshealth.com/healthlibrary2/medicalmyths/holdinginasneeze.)
Cover Your Cough. Atlanta, GA: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016. (Accessed March 31, 2017 at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/covercough.htm.)
Sneezing. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Health: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006. (Accessed March 29, 2017 at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003060.htm.)
Tiecks FP, Lam AM, Matta BF, et al. Effects of the Valsalva Maneuver on Cerebral Circulation in Healthy Adults: A Transcranial Doppler Study. Stroke. 1995;26:1386-1392.