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Coughing 101: Did You Know There's an Etiquette to It?

March 17, 2020 - Katie McCallum

You already know that you're supposed to cover your cough, but did you know that there's a right way to do it — in addition to a not-so-right way?

When you're constantly coughing, caring about doing it "the right way" may be the last thing on your mind. But, if you're around other people, it sort of needs to be.

While we're not going to try to convince you by making you watch a cough in slow motion, we are here to help you understand why proper cough etiquette is important — as well as what it entails.

Why proper cough etiquette matters

The primary way viral respiratory illnesses spread is through person-to-person contact via the infectious respiratory droplets found in a cough or sneeze.

You might be surprised to learn how many respiratory droplets leave your mouth when you cough or sneeze (spoiler: it's in the thousands). And, believe it or not, these thousands of droplets can travel as far as six feet. When those respiratory droplets are filled with infectious viral particles, it's easy to see how illness spreads.

Infectious particles in the respiratory droplets of a cough can make people sick by:

  • Being inhaled
  • Contaminating commonly touched surfaces
  • Coming into contact with a person's eyes, nose or mouth — which is why it's important to avoid touching your face

 

This means that covering your cough (or sneeze) is one of the best ways to protect other people from getting sick — but how you cover it matters.

The 4 steps to proper cough etiquette

While frequent and proper hand washing can help keep people healthy, you can also help keep people healthy by practicing proper cough etiquette.

To cover your cough the right way, follow these four steps:

  1. Grab a facial tissue. If you're going to be out and about, consider carrying travel packs of facial tissue with you.
  2. Move away from people around you. If you're in a crowded space, try to at least turn away from everyone.
  3. Cough into the tissue and throw the tissue in a trash can. You may want to consider carrying a disposable, sealable plastic bag with you in case you can't find a trash can.
  4. Wash your hands after. Consider carrying hand sanitizer in case soap and water are not available.

 

If you don't have access to facial tissue, you can cough into the crook of your elbow. Keep in mind, coughing into your hands should be your last resort, and be sure to wash your hands immediately afterwards. If not, you run the risk of spreading the virus as you touch surfaces.

In addition, if you're coughing a lot, consider staying home. The best way to help keep others from getting sick is to avoid bringing your cough out of your home in the first place.

Concerned you may have COVID-19?

  • If you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can speak to a Virtual Urgent Care provider 24/7. The provider will help you determine if testing is needed and advise you on where you should go.
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