How to Sneeze Properly

Two Parts:Preventing the Spread of GermsSneezing Discreetly

Sneezing in public can be embarrassing and it can lead to the spread of germs. Not everyone knows that there is a proper way to sneeze, but there is! Make sure to practice good respiratory etiquette whenever you sneeze to avoid passing your germs on to others. There are also a few things you can do to be more polite when you sneeze in public.

Part 1
Preventing the Spread of Germs

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    Cover your nose and mouth with a thick tissue. This is the best way to contain your germs.[1] Cold virus, respiratory syncytial virus, and influenza are are passed by droplets in the air. Releasing these viruses through sneezing and coughing is the main way these diseases are spread. Practicing respiratory etiquette (covering your mouth and nose, washing your hands, etc.) can help reduce the chances you'll get anyone else sick.
    • Make sure to dispose of your used tissues right away to help prevent them from spreading your germs.
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    Sneeze into your elbow. If you don't have a tissue, the best way to catch your sneeze is to bend your elbow and hold it close to your face while sneezing.[2]
    • This works best if you are wearing long sleeves. The goal is to contain the sneeze with your clothing so it doesn't spread into the air.[3]
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    Don't sneeze into your hands. Even though your hands might contain the sneeze, think about how many things you will have to touch with them! You will only be spreading germs around as you touch things.[4]
    • While sneezing into your hands is not desirable, it is definitely preferable to not containing your sneeze at all.
    • If you have nothing else to sneeze into and sneeze into your hands, make sure you wash your hands immediately. You can also use hand sanitizer for this purpose as well.
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    Wash your hands. Whenever you sneeze, it is very important to get rid of any residual germs by washing your hands with soap and water right away. This is especially important if you sneezed into your hands or into a tissue.[5]
    • In order to ensure that you wash your hands thoroughly, the CDC recommends wetting your hands with clean water, applying and lathering soap all over your hands, scrubbing for 20 seconds, rinsing with clean water, and then drying your hands with a clean towel or letting them air dry.[6]
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    Stay away from people. Sneezes can come on unexpectedly, and no one expects you to keep your distance from other people at all times just in case. If, however, you are sick and are sneezing a lot, do your best to give other people some space.[7]
    • This includes staying home from work or school when sick if at all possible. You may worry that this will negatively affect your work or school performance, but staying home when you are sick helps prevent other people from getting sick, too.

Part 2
Sneezing Discreetly

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    Don't hold a sneeze in. Although stopping a sneeze may seem like the most polite thing to do, it's usually not the best option once a sneeze has already started. A sneeze is your body's natural way of expelling irritants from your nasal passage, so by holding your sneeze in, you're holding the irritants in as well.[8]
    • In rare instances people have even been injured by holding a sneeze in. Some of the most common injuries include ruptured blood vessels and broken ribs.
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    Suppress the urge to sneeze. Although you will still be holding on to irritants, suppressing the urge to sneeze is not as bad as trying to stop a sneeze that has already started. There are various things you can try to suppress the urge to sneeze as soon as you feel it:[9]
    • Try rubbing your nose
    • Try breathing heavily through your nose
    • Try rubbing the area between your upper lip and the bottom of your nose
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    Create distance. If you're around a lot of people and you feel a sneeze coming on, the most polite thing to do is to create as much distance between yourself and the other people as possible. If you can, politely excuse yourself and take a few steps away. If you don't have time for that, try turning your body away from everyone else.[10]
    • No matter how much distance you create, it's still important to contain your germs by sneezing into a tissue or into your sleeve.
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    Practice your public sneeze. Research has found that most people have at least some control over the way they sneeze and are able to alter their sneezes to be quieter when in public. Try working on quieting your sneeze even when you aren't in public to see just how much control you do have.[11]
    • Sneezes do not necessarily need to be noisy. It has been found that that "achoo" sound that many English-speaking people make while sneezing is entirely cultural, not physiological. Deaf people do not make any such noise when sneezing. It might be possible to suppress the reflex to make a sound if you become more conscious of it.[12]
    • To practice sneezing more quietly, try clenching your teeth, but still allowing your lips to open, as you sneeze.[13]
    • Coughing at the same time as you sneeze might also help you suppress the reflex to make a loud noise.[14]


  • Always have tissues handy, especially during cold and flu season.
  • Hand sanitizer is very handy if you can't get to a sink to wash your hands right away.
  • Try not to be too embarrassed about sneezing. Everyone does it!

Article Info

Categories: Discreet Bodily Etiquette | Respiratory Health