Man sneezing in floral fields
Credit: Niall Benvie/Getty Images

It’s not just the stuff of urban legend: Trying to suppress a sneeze by clamping your nose and closing your mouth can rupture the back of your throat, doctors say in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

A British man said he felt a “popping” sensation in his neck and had difficulty speaking after trying to hold in a sneeze. Doctors in Leicester discovered that the man had “spontaneous perforation of the pharynx” and air bubbles in his neck.

This type of injury is most commonly associated with trauma, vomiting, or severe coughing.

The man was admitted into the hospital and kept for seven days, where he was fed via tube and given intravenous antibiotics. Upon discharge, doctors advised him “not to block both nostrils when sneezing in the future.”

"Halting sneezing via blocking [the] nostrils and mouth is a dangerous maneuver, and should be avoided," the authors of the case study wrote. The doctors said that the action could lead to trapping air between lungs, perforating eardrums or even cause a rupture of a cerebral aneurysm.

“When you sneeze, air comes out of you at about 150 miles per hour,” Dr. Anthony Aymat, director of ear, nose, and throat services at London’s University Hospital Lewisham, told the Associated Press. “If you retain all that pressure, it could do a lot of damage and you could end up like the Michelin Man with air trapped in your body.”

So this flu season, let your sneezes fly. Just remember to sneeze into your elbow, per the Center for Disease Control etiquette.