Cough Etiquette

Does it seem to you that the “cold and flu season” lasts all year long?  Many of us don’t (or can’t) let a cold get us down, and we continue to pursue all our usual activities of working, attending school, driving the kids to soccer practice, cooking for the family, etc., even though we may be coughing, sneezing, and suffering from runny nose and watering eyes.

We understand that you may not be able to afford the luxury of isolating yourself at home in bed until you feel better.  But when you drag your illness to school or work with you, are you considerate of others? (We know it’s tempting to wish others were sharing your misery, but really, do you want to risk infecting your co-workers and having them leave you in the lurch-- because they have sick time left -- or making your kids and spouse sick so you have to spend extra time coddling and caring for them?)

•  Even when you’re feeling lousy, you can do your part to prevent the spread of illness to others.  Don’t make a gift of the germs that are causing your illness; rather, observe “cough etiquette.”

•  Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and put your used tissue in the waste basket immediately.  An uncovered cough or sneeze can send droplets of moisture containing germs so small you can’t even see them onto objects and surfaces around you.  Germs can live a long time (some can live for 2 hours or more) on surfaces like doorknobs, desks and tables. When others touch these surfaces, the germs are transferred to them, increasing their chances of becoming ill.

•  If you don’t have a tissue handy, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.  We know mom always said not to wipe your nose on your sleeve. But if you have strayed too far from the tissue box, coughing or sneezing into your upper sleeve can trap those moisture droplets and prevent them from spreading into the open air.  Coughing or sneezing into your hands simply transfers germs to everything you touch.

•  You may be asked to wear a surgical mask to protect others.  Don’t be offended if your doctor’s receptionist asks you to wear a mask or even to sit in an alternate waiting area if you are coughing and sneezing.  It’s your germs she’s attempting to isolate, not you!

•  Wash your hands after coughing and sneezing.  When you have a cold, even practicing cough etiquette, the germs causing your illness are going to collect on your hands. Wash frequently using CDC-recommended handwashing guidelines.

Practice the “Golden Rule” of cough etiquette: Protect others when you are suffering as you would have them protect you when they are afflicted.

The result will be a better, healthier environment for all!


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