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How to Sneeze—Without Being a Jerk

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If you’ve ever been sneezed on by a sick stranger (especially in a crowded subway or elevator where you cannot immediately run to a bathroom to disinfect and cry silently to yourself), you know the terror, panic, and sheer repulsion that ensues. It’s not pretty. Good news: We’ve gotten to the bottom of how to avoid being sneezed on and getting sick.

But what if you actually are said disgust-inspiring sick person? Unless you are following the proper sneezing protocol this season (it's quite an art form), you're only causing your fellow humans further pain. 

Turns out, the key to not being that huge jerk comes down to one simple, yet crucial rule: Sneeze into your elbow, or the crux of your arm, directly into your clothing, says Philip M. Tierno, Jr., M.D., professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU School of Medicine. Ideally, you wouldn’t be wearing your favorite silk blouse, but if that is the case, you’ll likely need to take one for the team (after all, you’re the sneezy sick person walking around instead of staying in bed) and make a trip to the dry cleaner’s.

Do not, under any circumstances, sneeze into your hands. This is standard, polite human protocol at all times, but if you are harboring a cold, it is especially crucial since 80 percent of infections are transmitted by contact, both direct and indirect. We know—this head-lowering, elbow-raising raising movement is a lot of effort, especially the day after barre class when your arms are burning. But, since recent research shows coughs and sneezes travel—and stay airborne—farther than previously thought (according to Tierno, your sneezes have the ability to send a 100-mile per hour spray up to six feet away!), you really need to stop that bad boy ASAP.

Another thing not to do: suppress it. It's much better to just let your sneeze out, says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., professor of microbiology at University of Arizona's College of Public Health.

And, yes, we know there are more fun uses for your vacation days than sitting home in bed watching Netflix, but by coming into work when you’re a sneezy, phlegmy mess, you run the risk of being that inconsiderate co-worker everyone is g-chatting about. You're not a martyr, reminds Tierno, you're a human. So when you're sick, stay home. Seriously!

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