Why is cough etiquette important?

Colds and flu have the ability to spread easily via the transmission of the germs through the air, carried on droplets. If dispersal of these droplets can be prevented then infection transmission can be reduced. Cough etiquette can help to contain infectious respiratory droplets at the source.93

What is cough hygiene?



Dispose of tissue

Wash hands

Hand sanitizer

Respiratory and cough hygiene is designed to minimize the risk of cross-transmission of respiratory illness (pathogens):

  • Cover the nose and mouth with a disposable tissue when sneezing, coughing, wiping and blowing the nose. If a disposable tissue is not available use elbow to cover the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.

  • Patients showing symptoms of respiratory illness should be encouraged to wear a surgical (TYPE II R FRSM) face mask where it is clinically safe and tolerated by the wearer.

  • Dispose of used tissues and face masks promptly into a waste bin.

  • In the absence of disposable tissues and hand hygiene facilities only, individuals should cough or sneeze into their elbow/sleeve.

  • Wash hands with non-antimicrobial liquid soap and warm water after coughing, sneezing, using tissues, or after contact with respiratory secretions or objects contaminated by these secretions.

  • Where there is no running water available or hand hygiene facilities are lacking, staff may use hand wipes followed by ABHR and should wash their hands at the first available opportunity.

  • Keep contaminated hands away from the eyes nose and mouth.94


Why should you cover your mouth during coughing?

It's not just good manners to cover your cough. Doing so helps reduce the spread of germs. The flu and some other infections are spread through microscopic water droplets expelled from an infected person, commonly through coughing, sneezing, and hand-to-mouth contact.

Tips for practicing good cough hygiene

The idea is to cover your mouth when you cough, so the germs in your body are not propelled into the air or across the room, which could make others sick.

It's not difficult to cover your cough. But, as simple as it is, there is a right and wrong way to do it.

To do:

Cough into your bent elbow

Cough into tissue

Wash hands before touching doorknobs and other surfaces

Use hand sanitizer

Not to do:

Cough into the air

Cough into bare hands

Cough on other people

Touch doorknobs and other surfaces after coughing into hands

Putting your hand in front of your mouth to cover your cough is not advised. When you do this, the germs will then spread onto everything you touch, including surfaces like remote controls and doorknobs, but also things like food you serve and hands you shake. Put another way, your attempt to halt the spreading of germs will be moot.

It is recommended to cough into a tissue and throwing the tissue in the garbage. Then, wash your hands with soap or use hand sanitizer just in case any germs were transmitted from the tissue onto your skin.

If you don't have a tissue handy, the next best option is coughing into the crook of your elbow. This is obviously simple, but it may take time to make a habit. It's worth it, as this practice dramatically drops the odds of you spreading those germs.


Using a Face Mask

There are some instances when using a face mask to protect others from being exposed to your germs is probably best—for example, if you're going to the doctor to get evaluated and can't stop coughing in the office. Many medical facilities provide disposable masks for this very reason; some even mandate their use.

Use the mask to cover your mouth and nose making sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Try to avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands. If the mask gets damp, replace it. Do not reuse disposable masks.

When removing the mask, take it off from the back without touching the front. Used masks should be discarded immediately in a closed bin. After taking off the mask, disinfect your hands once again.95