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Don't Forget to Cover Your Mouth

June 15th 2009 06:23

It is impolite, even rude, not to cover your mouth when you yawn but it is really amazing the amount of people who donít even bother. If you are yawning, a mouth wide open looks pretty awful Ė almost like one of those clowns in a side show at a fair Ė and itís just simple bad manners.

To sneeze or cough without covering your mouth is even worse. Itís always advised that you cover your mouth if you cough or sneeze and even better if you can do this into a a tissue. Of course, the whole issue of sneezing and coughing has featured on news and radio and in blogs over recent months, Swine Flu generating most of the discussions.

A few months ago there was a blog I stumbled upon where the moderator repeated something he had heard on the radio. It was that people over 30 coughed into their hand but people under 30 coughed into their arm.

It generated a lot of conversation, many saying they coughed into their elbows, some into their forearms and a few mentioned their wrists. So I could only conclude that it must be a generational thing because I was never taught to do that.

Another one I read where a guy had said he always coughed or sneezed into his shirt and this disgusted his wife. He thought it was much better than coughing or sneezing into his hand. The responses were mixed, some saying it was gross and others thinking it really was quite OK.

When researching for this post I found a Centres for Disease Control website and checked out their advice. Obviously, the most important factor behind their advice is to prevent the spread of germs and disease rather than whatís rude and whatís not.

In fact, the main message was that coughing, sneezing and unclean hands spread serious respiratory illnesses like influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

What to do when you cough or sneeze? This website advises to cover your mouth AND nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and if you donít have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve NOT your hands. Hands should be washed either with soap and water or an alcohol based product afterwards.

On a site written by two doctors, Dr Dave and Dr Dee, advice they give to readers about coughing and sneezing when it comes to etiquette and hygiene is pretty similar. They do mention the traditional etiquette of turning away from people when you are about to cough or sneeze. Like the Centre for Disease Control they also suggest that if a tissue isnít available to cough or sneeze into the elbow or upper sleeve!

So there you have it. You should always cover your mouth when you are yawning, coughing or sneezing, no question. For the sake of public health, it is much better to cough or sneeze into an elbow or an upper sleeve than into a bare hand. The blogger I mentioned earlier wasnít so gross after all.

Have you got any better tips?

Image of women sneezing - credit


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15 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]

Comment by Jason King

June 15th 2009 07:28
Our work has just started training all staff to cough into their elbow. Just for the reason of spreading any germs/ diseases by the touch of hands or then touching food items and spreading from that. We have also invested in the antibacterial medical gel for all food serving areas. This is a cinema where I work and the initial steps to prevent Swine Flu or other germs.
I like the elbow idea and think it is incredibly logical.
As staff in a cinema we are constantly at risk of air based diseases as where do sick kids still like to go when off from school or on holidays - to the cinemas - and most parents will allow it as it is not strenuous activity - they cough in a cinema and can infect up to 1000 people due to airconditioning systems and patrons just in that cinema. A few of us get the flu shot each year to assist with this.
The other annoying thing that can I just add here - if you are a worker who gets sick - PLEASE TAKE THE TIME OFF TO GET BETTER - SURE YOU MAY NOT THINK YOU ARE OVERLY SICK BUT YOU GET OTHERS SICK AND MAKE THINGS WORSE FOR EVERYONE, besides you get sick leave so use it. Sorry for caps but most of my illnesses come from other people not taking sickies when it's genuine - I know off topic but it's now off the chest
Thanks Janet

Comment by Lara M

June 15th 2009 07:43
When a hankie or tissue is not quick enough to get to -- since we don't plan when we sneeze -- the scarf around your neck (this Winter) could come in handy

Comment by Janet Collins

June 15th 2009 07:58
Hi Jason

I'm glad you did get that off your chest. It was pretty good advice. Thank you for sharing your workplace strategy for combating the spread of flu or Swine Flu. It's good to hear that companies are taking action.



Comment by Janet Collins

June 15th 2009 08:01
What a good idea, Lara.

I certainly hadn't thought of that. The medical profession seems to prefer tissues to hankies because you can dispose of them - so long as you put them in the waste bin.

Scarves can have an extra purpose this winter and it saves slobbering all over your shirt.

Thanks for that.


Comment by Morgan Bell

June 15th 2009 08:03
i guess it depends on your personal circumstances

if you are just at home or at a friends place, or in a relaxed office environment, its fine to sneeze or cough into your hand (and ALWAYS turn your head while you do it) and then if you are called on to prepare a drink or some food you can say "ill just pop in and wash my hands first"

of course if you are working at Subway, or in childcare, or in a call centre, or shaking hands all day, it may not be practical and you may want to be more prepared

a hanky or tissues or anti-bac wipes or gel, or even changing food prep gloves regularly

dont sneeze in peoples faces, it is incredibly rude and disgusting

Comment by Janet Collins

June 15th 2009 08:13
Thanks Morgan

Things are different of course in all workplaces but I suppose some companies, such as Jason's, are just being as careful and cautious as they can because they can't trust EVERYONE to do the right thing such as wash their hands regularly.

The sleeve - and elbow - thing was new to me but I guess it's catching on.


Comment by Mat Shea

June 15th 2009 08:46
Wahey - good post Janet. Due to having gone through a period of being particularly susceptible to other's germs, I'm a little paranoid about this myself.

For a long time I've done the elbow trick, which really comes down to the large number of years I worked as a waiter - nothing worse than snotty soup.

Comment by Janet Collins

June 15th 2009 09:49
"Snotty soup" I love it Matt

People are rather obsessed with "germs" and "disease" at the moment. The elbow/sleeve thing is almost becoming a bit trendy, don't you think?

Thanks for stopping by and putting in your witty comment.

Comment by Lilla

June 16th 2009 03:06
Hi Janet,

hahah Matt just reminded me of the time I was on a working holiday making my way around the globe, I was pulling beers during the day in a very posh, London golf club. Anyeehoo I had the dread lurgy and as I stood there my nose streaming, ten deep at the bar, no time to wipe it. . . it just dripped (in slow motion with a loud plop [it seemed]), right into the beer I was pouring!

Dead silence at the bar.

What*s a girl to do but offer him a fresh one, but I think the damage had been done and I was soon shuffled onto *other duties* till I got better, which I didn*t mind as the steam from the dishewasher was really helpful in clearing the sinuses. Having said that, I agree with Jason, that sick people should stay home, but remember well that sometimes ~ when you are casual staff ~ you just can*t afford to.

I have always sneezed (or yawned) into the crook of my arm (or armpit really), if my hands are busy ~ rather than my hand and cringe when i am in the mall, out and about amongst the swine who just cough, sneeze, yawn and dribble all over the place, wiping it all in their bare hands and all... yuk, then taking my credit card or whatever... yuk!

I think everyone needs a bottle of aquium in their pockets in this day of pandemic verges and especially in shopping malls which are amongst the dirtiest places on the planet, especially if you are handling money all day or opening the toilet door by its handle. Putrid. Agreed.

Nice post, good thoughts for everyone to remember. The message is simple too I guess, we need to remember to wash our hands more often. Mothers should be especially vigilant with children in this regards, but so many don*t seem to care these days?

Lilla ..

Comment by Cheryl J

June 16th 2009 06:53
Hi Janet, I agree with the yawnig issue. who wants to look in to the gaping mouth of anyone? As for the sneezing issue, I'm in my forties and always sneeze or cough into the crook of my arm if I'm not carrying antibacterial hand gel with me. It is far more hygenic and that is what is being taught now.

When you sneeze - especially if you have a cold - you are putting the cold virus directly onto your hands and you are far more likely to spread it on the surfaces you touch. By sneezing into the crook of your arm you are unlikey to spread the virus to others. If I sneeze into a tissue or onto my hands I immediately wash them. It is a habit I have picked up from travelling on public transport because you realise how many times a day you hold onto poles etc that other people have, or will, handle. It grosses me out.

Comment by Wilson Pon

June 16th 2009 10:57
Janet, it's a very disgusting scene, especially when I saw a person coughed on his/her shirt!

Frankly, since the A H1N1 flu is spreading like bushfire all over the places, it's bettercovering our mouth with handkerchief, when we're sneezing!

Comment by Janet Collins

June 16th 2009 13:18

have always sneezed (or yawned) into the crook of my arm (or armpit really),

You are definitely ahead of many of us. I had never thought of this before but obviously now it is becoming a normal thing to do.

Thank you for your comment and your worldly advice.


Comment by Janet Collins

June 16th 2009 13:22
Hey Cheryl,

Lovely to hear from you. I must be worlds away from everyone because I had not heard until recently that sneezing into your arm/elbow was the thing to do. I always have a tissue handy but I am going to have to adjust to new habits.

Thank you.

Comment by Janet Collins

June 16th 2009 13:25

Before now, I would have thought sneezing into your sleeve was pretty bad form but now I am realising, for the sake of not spreading germs, that it is probably a rather good thing.

I will have to start changing what I do. Everyone seems to agree, sneezing into your shirt sleeve is much better than anything else.


Comment by avatar hd

March 28th 2012 02:24
Yeah, I completely agree with you. Even to now, there're still have many people that very impolite. They don't even think their habit is impolite, someone do it intentionally. I really hate them

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