How Far Can A Cough Really Travel?

  • 29 April 2021 15:55:24
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Cold and flu season, allergies, and even inhaling an irritant like smoke or perfume can cause an unpleasant coughing fit. Coughing is the body's way of getting rid of anything that's irritating the throat or lungs. It's estimated that coughs can be expelled from the mouth at speeds of up to 100 mph (via Penn Medicine). While we all know that we should cover our mouths when we cough so the droplets that contain our germs don't go flying, should we also be trying to keep ourselves from coughing in the first place? Coughing may not feel great, but holding in a cough can keep your body from doing what it needs to in order to keep you healthy.

There are several different types of coughs that stem from health conditions. They can last anywhere from a few days to longer than eight weeks (via MedlinePlus). Coughs that last for a short period of time are known as acute coughs, and those that last for an extended period of time are called chronic coughs. Some coughs produce phlegm while others are considered dry coughs and do not produce anything. Respiratory tract infections, allergic rhinitis, and irritants can cause acute coughing. Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and even certain medications can cause chronic coughs (per Medical News Today).

Attempting to hold in a cough essentially keeps your body from expelling something that shouldn't be there. Mucus that contains pathogens may be loosened or ejected during a cough, which keeps it from getting into your lungs where it could cause an infection (via Harvard Health). If you don't allow your body to cough up irritants like mucus, you could be increasing your chance for illness. Even taking cough suppressants too frequently can keep your body from doing this important job.

Coughs can often be treated successfully with a humidifier, cough drops, and the consumption of fluids and over-the-counter medications (via Penn Medicine). While most coughs will go away once the underlying condition that's causing the cough is treated, some coughs may be cause for concern. If you have excess mucus production or are coughing up any amount of blood, it's important to see a medical professional for treatment. Coughs that are severe, last a long time, or continue to get worse should also be evaluated by a doctor for potential treatment.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are diligently washing our hands, practicing social distancing, and making sure to remain six feet apart from people if we have to venture outside of our homes, per CDC recommendations. The key here is to stay far enough from other people that we can avoid the transmission of coronavirus.

Avoiding close contact with others is a good way to cut down on the spread of the virus, as coughs, which can carry COVID-19 and play a big role in the transmission of respiratory illnesses, can travel pretty far. Just how far can a cough travel? 

According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (via Gulf News), a cough can travel as far as 1.8 meters. For those of you who aren't familiar with the metric system, that's 5.9 feet — just a hair away from the six feet we are supposed to be keeping from other people during this pandemic. A cough can travel as fast as 80 kilometers (49.7 miles) per hour.

A sneeze can travel an even greater distance than a cough. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (per Science Focus) found that droplets from sneezes can travel as far as eight meters (26.2 feet). Even more frightening is that droplets from coughs and sneezes can linger in the air for as long as 10 minutes before landing on nearby surfaces where viruses present can live for days.

The recommendation to stay six feet apart from other people is a good one, but limiting close contact with other people as much as possible is much safer. If you do find yourself having to break social distancing for an important errand like visiting the doctor or going to the grocery store, it's especially important to wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face. Also remember to cough or sneeze into a tissue and to discard the used tissue properly.