1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Cover Your Cough

By

Updated May 23, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Cover Your Cough

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano demonstrates how to properly cough into your elbow to avoid spreading germs.

Image courtesy: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Aside from washing your hands, one of the most important and effective ways to stop the spread of germs is to "cover your cough." But what does that mean and why do should you do it?

How to Cover Your Cough

It's not difficult to cover your cough, but there is a right and wrong way to do it. The idea is to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze so the germs in your body don't go flying into the air or across the room where they will make someone else sick.

But putting your hand in front of your mouth to cover your cough is actually not the best way to do it. When you cough into your hand, the germs will then spread onto everything you touch with your hands, which sort of defeats the purpose since you may be shaking hands with people or touching food, doorknobs and other surfaces.

So, to do it properly, your best bet is to cover your cough with the inside of your elbow. Once you get used to it, it is just as easy as coughing into your hand. But since you probably won't be trying to open any doors with your elbow, the chance of spreading those germs drops dramatically.

If you happen to be standing next to a box of tissues when you need to sneeze or cough, another option is to grab one and cough into it, then immediately throw it away. If you decide to do this, you may want to clean your hands with some hand sanitizer or wash them just in case any germs got by the tissue and onto your hands.

Why Cover Your Cough?

Covering your cough is important because it cuts down on the spread of germs. Illnesses such as the common cold and flu are spread when you sneeze and cough or when you touch your face and then touch other objects. Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze with your elbow or a tissue will greatly reduce the number of germs that are able to get into the environment.

This simple step could protect many people from getting sick. And it's so simple that you can teach even young children to do it.

Be sure you cover your cough - with your elbow or a tissue - every time and help cut down on the spread of airborne illnesses.

Sources:

"Cover Your Cough." Good Health Habits 27 Sep 10. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 25 Aug 11.

See More About
  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Cold & Flu
  4. Prevention
  5. Cover Your Cough

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.