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Sometimes, being polite is bad for you

Whether it was from the taco before the business presentation or the extra-large beer while watching the big game, everyone has had a time when they tried to hold back a bodily function—for their sake or for everyone around them. 

While some bodily functions like sneezing can be disruptive, others like gas can be downright embarrassing. Depending on the circumstances, letting it out may even be rude. 

“We’re all guilty of holding back bodily functions to be polite,” said Susan A. Werner, M.D., a Geisinger family medicine provider. “What you may not realize, however, is that it can have negative effects on your health. Bodily functions are supposed to be let out, and holding them in can cause infections or serious health issues.”

Here are four bodily functions you should just let go.  


For most people, sneezes are far from subtle—which is understandable since you’re expelling air at around 40 miles per hour. 

People hold in sneezes to avoid being disruptive, but the effects of holding in a sneeze might be more than you bargained for.

“There are cases of people rupturing their throats after holding in a sneeze,” said Dr. Werner. “The force is enough to break through your windpipe and push the air through the soft tissue in your neck. In these cases, it may be necessary to stay at the hospital for a week to heal completely.”

While this is a rare event, it does still happen. Luckily, it’s completely avoidable if you let the sneeze out. 

Just be sure to sneeze into a tissue or your elbow (for everyone’s sake). 


While you can sneeze anywhere you want, it’s not so easy when you have to urinate. Holding your urine is sometimes necessary, but if you find yourself doing a dance, it’s time to make a pit stop. 

As liquid waste builds up in your body, you get the urge to urinate. It’s not harmful to hold it for a few minutes until you get to the bathroom, but if you wait too long, the effects can be unpleasant and even dangerous.

Holding your urine for too long can weaken the bladder muscles over time. This can lead to problems such as incontinence and not being able to fully empty your bladder. 

Holding your urine for extremely long periods of time can also cause urinary tract infections due to bacteria build-up. In addition, it can increase your risk of kidney disease and in rare cases even risk your bladder bursting—a condition that can be deadly. 

Bowel Movements

There are plenty of reasons to hold back a bowel movement. For most people, it’s not just a matter of finding a bathroom, it’s about finding the right bathroom and some peace and quiet. 

As a result, some people may hold their bowel movements for too long.

“Don’t hold back bowel movements,” said Dr. Werner. “The longer you wait, the more water your body removes from the waste. Eventually, this can lead to constipation and impactions, which may require laxatives or even surgery to remove.”


Belches and flatulence are embarrassing, especially when they happen at the wrong moment. And because gas can smell or make a noise, most people try to hold it in until they find a secluded place.

Luckily, holding gas does not have serious or harmful side effects. However, it can cause bloating and discomfort.

“Interestingly, some early studies show that holding gas can lead to bad breath, too,” said Dr. Werner. “When you hold gas in, the bubbles can break down and go elsewhere throughout the body—which in some cases can end up making your breath smell.”

If you have the chance, it’s best to let gas go. 

Susan A. Werner, M.D., is a primary care physician at Geisinger Nanticoke. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Werner, click here, call 570-258-1304 or visit
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