I broke a rib three weeks ago when riding my bicycle up at Lake Tahoe. Once before I broke some ribs, about 45 years ago while chasing rabbits with my dogs. That time I fell and hit a mound of dirt with my chest, and broke two ribs in the front and two in the back. A trip to the emergency room was in order after that interesting event where the doctor confirmed my suspicions of internal injury. Externally there was nothing much to show, but a little poking about and an x-ray confirmed my worries. The doctor offered me several options: a full body plaster of Paris cast, a chest wrapping and maybe some other things or as an alternative, to just ignore the pain, and be very, very careful for a few weeks. He gave me some pills, mostly so I could go to sleep when lying down, and I was out the door and on my way home. The next few weeks were filled with caution and soft speaking. I couldn’t pressurize my lungs to talk much above a whisper, and couldn’t even whistle softly without it hurting. Occasionally it is necessary to cough, but I soon found out that that is a big mistake when you have some broken ribs. And sneezing is a truly memorable experience!
This time the cracked rib wasn’t nearly so serious, just one middle rib in the middle, so I didn’t even bother to bother a doctor with my travails, and have chosen to simply be very careful. Coughing can usually be suppressed with a conscious effort, but sneezing is much more difficult to control, and when it happens it is astonishingly painful and possibly dangerous. In this case the problem was a minor crack, and after two weeks it didn’t hurt much and now three weeks later I have to press directly on the rib for it to hurt. So what did I learn from all of this which I can pass on the the wonderful world of the Internet?
Sneezing can be suppressed by sniffing a cloud of Chloraseptic:© sore throat spray. It is usually used as an anesthetic for a sore throat, but it seemed to anesthetize my nasal passages as well, and it suppressed the need to sneeze. I thought that it might not be a good idea to get this spray into my lungs so I did a short inhale through my nose, and a long exhale through my mouth when sniffing this stuff. This suppression of sneezing is based on only a couple of experiences, but it seemed to work. If you try it be very careful and realize that this is an experimental off label use of this product for which I can not be responsible in any way. This use is just a personal observation! The Wikipedia entry for sneezing doesn’t have this suggestion so it may be a new method for controlling the sneezing.
Wrapping the rib cage with a non-stretching tape would prevent the chest from expanding when coughing or sneezing. An Ace flexible bandage would be inappropriate for this use because it would expand when sneezing. A two inch wide packing tape which is non-stretchy is what is needed. One wouldn’t want to put this kind of tape directly on the skin for a couple of weeks, but if you wore a close fitting undershirt and put the tape on the outside of the shirt all the way around the rib cage, probably two complete circuits, it should not be too irritating. The tape should be the two inch wide kind and go around the ribs once plus, a minimum of six inches overlap. The undershirt should be adjusted so the tape would go directly over the crack in the rib. This is obviously an experimental procedure so you are on your own. If you think you have a broken rib go immediately to your doctor.
With the tape over the cracked rib the ribcage won’t expand much when you sneeze. It will still hurt, but the sneeze shouldn’t be able to separate the broken bone.