I do not understand why women feel compelled to hold in their sneezes. I find it quite liberating to let it all out!
I have witnessed so many women hold in a sneeze, and when they do, it makes me cringe. As a physical therapist specializing in women's health, I understand the physiology of holding in a sneeze. And, for all of you who do it, it is terrible for your bodies! Let me explain.
For one thing, think about your internal organs. Do you realize how much pressure you are exerting on those organs when you do that? Sneezes travel up to 200 miles per hour!
Picture the organs like your bladder, uterus, rectum, and vagina all of which are located in your pelvis. Years of holding in your sneezes place ridiculous amounts of pressure on them. I bet you did not realize this, but that can lead to a pelvic organ prolapse. In other words, you can push any one or more of those organs out of place. And, depending on how far your organ or organs prolapse, surgery may then be your only option.
The act of pushing pressure down your abdominal and pelvic cavities while holding your breath is called a Valsalva. Many people do this without realizing it. Here is a small list of actions, to name a few, that could lead to a Valsalva:
- Doing sit-ups while holding your breath
- Lifting heavy objects while holding your breath
- Moving furniture in your house while holding your breath
- Holding in a sneeze
- Having a bowel movement while holding your breath, especially with a long history of constipation
- Picking up your child or pet while holding your breath
- Lifting your vacuum while holding your breath
- Giving birth while holding your breath
The reason a Valsalva can lead to a prolapse is that there is no place for the pressure to go except downward. And when it pushes on your organs, they too are being pushed downward.
But, if you do any of the above things while breathing, then the pressure cannot build in your abdominal and pelvic cavities and therefore not push your organs downward and out of place.
I know all of this to be true because I have seen it many times. I remember one woman who told me she felt it, her prolapse, happen. She was at work in front of her computer and needed to grab a large file. She remembered twisting and bending awkwardly to grab the file and felt something ‘give' into her vagina. She then felt an uncomfortable pressure there the rest of the day. When she got home, she used a mirror to see if anything was wrong. She was horrified to see something bulging out of her vagina. Her gynecologist verified it was her bladder. And, in case you are wondering, she never even had children.
From that point forward she had bladder problems such as pain, urgency, urinary tract infections, and leakage. Luckily I was able to help her to avoid surgery and control her other symptoms but her prolapse will always be a concern.
I treated another woman for a rectal prolapse. Her symptoms were even more severe because not only did she have difficulty emptying her bowels, but constipation caused urinary incontinence as well.
Don't let this happen to you because it is preventable. Awareness is the key as it usually is with most other things. If you already have a prolapse and do not want it to worsen, then make sure you avoid a Valsalva. If you want help controlling the associated symptoms, make sure to contact your gynecologist and your nearest pelvic floor physical therapy specialist.
Remember, in the words of Shrek, "Better out than in!"
Leslie M. Parker