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Coughing etiquette 101

Posted April 12, 2021 by Thomas M File, Jr., M.D. and Shanu Agarwal, M.D.

Woman coughing into her elbow

When you are suffering from a respiratory infection, you risk spreading the infection through your cough. In fact, each cough expels thousands of tiny, infectious droplets that travel up to six feet away.

Those droplets can be inhaled by others or land on their face. Droplets also can fall on and contaminate nearby surfaces, where they can be easily transferred to another’s hands.

Coughing etiquette, combined with facial coverings and social distancing, is the best way to protect others and slow the spread of COVID-19 as well as other respiratory infections. Facemasks, which should be worn over both nose and mouth to be most effective, help reduce the spread by trapping droplets that are released when someone talks, coughs or sneezes.

However, it’s not guaranteed that a mask will capture every respiratory droplet when someone coughs or sneezes, so be sure to follow the new rules of thumb for cough etiquette to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

How to corral your cough

Due to Ohio’s facial coverings mandate, if you have a cough and you know you will be out in public, you can simply cough into your facemask. Just be sure to keep a fresh one on hand in case it gets wet or soiled. You could also place a tissue inside your mask as a barrier between your mouth and the fabric. Then, replace the tissue after each cough or sneeze.

If you’d prefer not to cough in your facemask, you can carry facial tissues with you. When you feel a cough come on, try to social distance while lowering your mask and coughing into the tissue. Then, throw the tissue into a trash can and put your mask back on. Consider carrying a disposable plastic bag for your used tissues in case there is not a trash can handy.

After disposing of your tissue, immediately wash your hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.

If you run out of tissues, cough into the crook of your elbow. Never cough into your hands if you can help it. If you do, wash your hands right away or you will run the risk of touching common surfaces and spreading the infection.

If you are coughing in a crowded space, try to move at least six feet away from others or go outside where it’s well ventilated. Because coughs can come on suddenly and this isn’t always possible, at the very least, turn your face away.

Wash your cloth facemask with soap and water by hand or in the washing machine after each use.

Coughing a lot? Stay home. 

The best way to fight an epidemic is to protect each other. If you don’t have to leave the house or if you’re coughing because you’re sick, stay in and practice your coughing etiquette at home. Additionally, if you are positive for COVID-19, make sure you avoid going into public and quarantine from others to help prevent the spread of the disease.

In addition to administration of a COVID-19 vaccine, the wearing of a well-fitting mask is the best to stop the pandemic.

For more COVID-19 information, call our 24/7 hotline at 234.867.6314.


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If your situation is an emergency, call 911.