How to Cough In Public Without Being Embarrassed?

In June 2019, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, sparked a discussion about coughing etiquette when he asked his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to leave the Oval Office when he coughed during a TV interview. The internet had mixed opinions, so what should one really do in that embarrassing situation?

Etiquette expert Jo Bryant says, “With coughing etiquette, you have a duty of care to other people.” He also adds, “If there’s anything you can do to suppress the symptoms, like sucking a cough sweet or washing your hands, that will stop the spread of germs.” On the off chance that you can’t help coughing in public, the best thing to do is find a place where there aren’t people around.

Coughing in public will always be mortifying, especially with many people sharing Trump’s irritation to such thing. So we’ve rounded up the best ways to avoid getting kicked out of a room and feeling anxious in public when you’ve got the cough.

Turning Away from People

This is the first thing to do when you’re about to cough in public. Avoid the people around you and head to an area where you can let it all out.

This way, you also dodge the chance of spreading the virus around you and save yourself from uncomfortable attention at the same time. If you can’t hold your coughing long enough to go to a different space, just make sure you cough away from people’s faces.

The Proper Way to Cover Your Mouth or Nose

Of course, covering your mouth or nose is the best way to tone down a public coughing case. However, it’s not as simple as using your bare hand.

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.

Infectious disease nurse Kristina Duda, RN

The best alternative is to cough with the inside of your elbow. It does sound like an odd position, but at least you won’t be opening any doors or shaking anyone’s hand with your elbow.

You could also cough into a tissue, but make sure to throw it in the trash can right after you’ve used it. If you can’t find a bin around, keep your tissues in a small bag until you can properly dispose of them.

You should also clean your hands through washing them or spraying hand sanitizer on them after doing that. Should you have no access to tissues or feel uncomfortable coughing into your elbow, there’s a proper way to cough on your bare hand.

Use your left hand so your right hand is free to shake hands or touch common surfaces. Don’t forget to wash your left hand afterward, too.

Coughing in a Crowded Space 

Running away from a big crowd to find a quiet spot to cough in is challenging. In that situation, the only choice you have is to stay there and just do it without attracting everyone’s attention.

The trick is simple–just do the two things mentioned above. Turn away from people and cover your mouth properly. Just do it as quietly as possible, of course.

Excusing Yourself from the Room

In instances like that of Trump’s interview, you have to be extra cautious. Moments like that are supposed to be kept away from any noise and people in rooms like that are most likely to be more sensitive than others.

A common regular situation comparable to this is when you’re having dinner with a group of people. Coughing while you’re seated there with everybody else is not good even if you do it with your mouth covered.

Just get up, excuse yourself and let it all out in the restroom. You can also recondition yourself there so you can spend time with your peers longer than when you’re holding a cough in between every few minutes.

Make sure to sanitize your hands and retouch your face afterward so you can go back to the table without making people feel like they should avoid you.

What to Bring with You to Ease Coughing in Public 

The tips above are clear about how coughing in public requires some tools to help you out. Your bare hand is not enough and is not hygienic at all.

Here are what experts suggest you bring with you when you’re out in public and dealing with an unmanageable cough:

  • Handkerchief or tissues – Either choice can help lessen the noise of your coughing and prevent you from letting the virus out. As stated above, covering your mouth is the best way to make others and yourself comfortable with coughing in public.

    It’s also important to have something to wipe your nose in case that cough is accompanied by a terrible cold.
  • Water – Keeping yourself hydrated thins out the mucus in your throat that causes your coughing. Bring bottled water with you when you go out to relieve your throat.
  • Lozenges or cough drops – Sometimes, an itchy throat can’t be solved just by drinking water. That’s why you have to pack some lozenges or cough drops with you. They can soothe your throat during a cough burst and improve your overall condition as well.
  • Chocolates – Sweets may not sound like an actual pal in situations like this. However, chocolates have an ingredient called Theobromide, which subdues the vagus nerve activity that triggers coughing.
  • Hand sanitizer – You need to make sure your hands are clean despite being backed by tissues to cover your hands, mouth, and nose while coughing. This is to make people comfortable in shaking your hand or getting near you.

    You also want to be able to touch your face or eyes without fearing germs from irritating these delicate areas.

Natural Cough Remedies

To lessen the chances of being embarrassed by an uncontrollable cough in public, there are natural treatments you could use before leaving your house. Here are a few non-chemical remedies for coughs caused by different conditions:

  • Honey – Based on a study, honey is a more preferable choice to relief coughs compared to the popular over-the-counter honey-flavored dextromethorphan. The secret formula is mixing two tablespoons of honey with warm water or herbal tea and lemon.
  • Salt and Water Gargle – This classic trick works best in soothing a scratchy throat. Just gargle a mixture of ½ or ¼ of salt and 8 oz. (1 cup) of warm water.
  • Peppermint – The menthol in peppermint is a good decongestant. It breaks down the mucus that causes you to cough a lot.

    You can achieve that ease by inhaling peppermint vapors through a steam bath. Pour 3-4 drops of peppermint oil for every 150 mL of hot water then take deep breaths right above the water with a towel draped over your head.
  • Thyme – Thyme leaves contain flavonoids, which are compounds that relax your throat muscles that play a big part in your coughing.  Just put 2 teaspoons of thyme leaves into a cup of boiling water.
  • Bromelain – This is an enzyme found in pineapples, making the fruit a good cough remedy. Bromelain can help loosen the mucus in your throat, as well as suppress your coughs.

    Eating a slice of pineapple or drinking 3.5 ounces (½ cup) of fresh pineapple juice thrice a day guarantees excellent results.
  • Probiotics – The Lactobacillus in probiotics do not directly relieve coughs. However, they balance your gastrointestinal flora, that are bacterias living in your intestines.

    This can strengthen your immune system so that your coughing or the likelihood of acquiring any disease that causes coughing can be lessened.

Cough Etiquette’s Effectiveness in Preventing the Transmission of the Disease

Observing cough etiquette is not just about saving yourself from the judgmental looks people around you. It’s also meant to prevent you from spreading the disease around.

However, keep in mind that practicing correct coughing habits doesn’t mean that you’re completely protecting others from your respiratory disease. Research published in 2013 concludes, “Practicing these assessed primary respiratory hygiene/cough etiquette maneuvers would still permit direct, indirect, and/or airborne transmission and spread of IRD (infectious respiratory diseases), such as influenza and Tuberculosis”.

Disciplined coughing manners, at least, decrease the chances of transmitting any respiratory diseases.  According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, health habits like covering your mouth and nose when coughing still help in preventing respiratory illnesses from spreading.


Coughing in public creates an unsettling atmosphere for both the cougher and the people around. Nobody enjoys being in a space where there is a high possibility of getting sick.

Healthy coughing habits may not totally eliminate the powers of the virus from getting around. However, they are a polite way to show that you have no intention of transmitting your disease despite being in public for work or other important daily routines.

This is why we conclude that President Donald Trump’s reaction to his chief of staff’s coughing inside the Oval Office was not rude at all. When you’ve got the cough, you should remember that other people will always be scared of catching whatever you have.

Even though it’s just a mere reaction to dust, just make an effort to make others anxious about getting sick.

Matthew Ryan

I'm Matthew Ryan, one of the guys behind I am passionate about the world of good manners, etiquette and proper behavior to have on any special occasion. Here I decided to share my passion with you!

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