The Dangers of Sneezing: A Review of Injuries

Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2019 May;33(3):331-337. doi: 10.1177/1945892418823147. Epub 2019 Jan 8.


Background: Sneezing is an almost universal daily phenomenon as a reflex to evacuate irritants from the nasal cavities. An autonomic-controlled buildup of intrathoracic pressure against a closed glottis followed by sudden release results in a burst of 1 kPa of air through the upper airway. Active intervention to limit a sneeze can be deleterious. Closure of the airway during a sneeze can result in over 20 times the airway pressures resulting in a variety of untoward events. This review summarizes all reported injuries that occurred as the result of a sneeze.

Objective: The objective of this review is to summarize the risks of closed-airway sneezing and determine if there are any trends which can help understand such injuries.

Methods: A comprehensive literature review was performed from 1948 to 2018 to identify all reports of sneeze-related injuries. Information was compiled from reports to gain insights into comorbidities and risk factors for sneeze injuries.

Results: There were 52 unique reports of sneeze-related injuries in the literature that were categorized into 6 areas of injury: intrathoracic, laryngeal/pharyngeal, ocular/orbital, intracranial/neurological, otologic, and other. The mean age of subjects who suffered a sneeze injury was 40 years old (range: 15-84 years), with 81% being male gender. Thirty percent had a risk factor for injury of prior trauma (5) or respiratory compromise (5).

Conclusion: A variety of injuries can occur during a sneeze, especially when a closed-airway sneeze is attempted, and high Valsalva pressure is transmitted to the other systems. Men are more at risk for these injuries with the majority occurring in patients with no known risk factor. When triggered, a sneeze should be allowed to proceed without intervention to prevent associated injuries.

Keywords: Valsalva; airway; injury; sneeze; sneezing; trauma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Sneezing* / physiology
  • Valsalva Maneuver / physiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology*