Father-of-two feared for life after tearing windpipe stifling sneeze

Andrew McDougall from Blairgowrie suffered a two millimetre tear in his windpipe.

A Perthshire man says he feared for his life after a stifled sneeze left him in hospital with a torn hole in his throat.

Andrew McDougall from Blairgowrie suffered a two millimetre tear in his windpipe in the summer of 2022.

He sustained the injury while driving home from work.

“As I was pulling out the petrol station, I had to sneeze,” the father of two told STV News.

Andrew at home with his son and fiancé

“I pinched [my nose], and I felt this pop, then just a stiff neck.

“I didn’t think too much of it. I drove home and saw my partner and asked her ‘do I sound a bit different?’

“It was a higher pitch. Around ten minutes later I had to clear my throat and I brought up this thick blood.

“That’s when Kirstie [Andrew’s fiancé] phoned for an ambulance.”

Earlier this month, Andrew’s injury was documented in a British Medical Journal report. It stated the 29-year-old is one of only a few people known to have sustained such an injury.

Dr Rasads Misirovs, who led the review, said: “It’s like winning, not the million pound lottery but the billion pound lottery.

“It’s extremely rare. I suppose we will not hear of a similar case in the next few years or even decades.

“It could have led to his death.

“The air should only be in the airwaves, meaning the windpipe and the tubes going into the lungs, we call them bronchioles.

“If we compare it to pipes in the house, where the water flows. If one of those pipes bursts, the water goes everywhere.

“It’s the same with air, it goes somewhere where there is least resistance.

“That air can go around the windpipe, the lungs, neck tissue and can compress that, which can risk issues with breathing, where airwaves just close off.

“There is no way to take a breath.”

Andrew spent three nights in hospital and several more weeks recovering at home.

Andrew's children, Ruaridh [left] and Ava [right] visit him in hospital

His loved ones feared the worst.

“It was quite shocking,” said Kirstie.

“I wasn’t getting much information from Andrew at the hospital, we had no way of getting what we needed to know, if he was coming home.

“With two young children as well, it was always at the back of my mind, what if something is quite serious here and they were perhaps left without a dad at some point?”

Andrew has often struggled with hay fever and for as long he remembers, he’s always tried to stifle a sneeze.

“I don’t like sneezing in general, I think it’s quite dirty,” he added.

“I didn’t realise it could have that much of an impact. Sometimes I’ll automatically surpress it slightly and I get annoyed at myself.

“It’s like fighting a habit.”

Andrew’s injuries healed without surgery but he doesn’t think his voice has returned to normal.

“I don’t think my voice ever recovered. It often seems quite laboured, that might be from the trauma it caused my voice box,” he said.

Asked what advice he would have to others with concerns about sneezing, he said: “Just let it out. It’s easier to clean it up, than one day not come home.

“That’s what it could have been, at the end of the day.”

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