How far can a cough travel?

How far can a cough travel?

Along with sneezing, a runny nose and aches around the body, a cough is one of the most common symptoms of multiple minor illnesses that many of us will experience at some stage in our lives. A cough can range from being a subtle yet uncomfortable tickle in the back of the throat to a recurring problem that can cause pain, discomfort, coughing fits and temporarily take away your ability to speak properly[1].

Aside from the unpleasantness a cough can cause to the person who’s experiencing it, it can also spread germs, potentially putting others at risk. If there’s anything the coronavirus pandemic has taught us, it’s the distance contagious virus particles can travel after coughing and sneezing and why it shouldn’t be underestimated. But how far exactly can particles travel after you cough?

How far does a cough travel?

A cough is a repetitive reflex that the body uses as a way of clearing irritants such as unwanted particles, bacteria and germs from breathing passages within the body. It consists of three stages: inhaling the unwanted particles, natural exhalation and a more violent release of air used to rid the body of the unwanted particles, better known as a cough. Coughs may be a rare occurrence caused by something temporarily being caught in your throat. However, if you can’t cure your cough and experience it for a long period of time, it could be a sign of something more serious and require medical attention[1].

If you’re experiencing a cough or have been near someone who is, you may be concerned that an open mouth cough could cause germs to travel. So, how far does a cough travel? Although it’s a difficult question to answer due to how a cough may vary, a cough can travel as far as six feet. However, this is also true of other methods of spreading germs such as sneezing and even talking.

During the coronavirus pandemic, understanding the science behind how COVID-19 works has helped to avoid infection. According to the NHS, it would be advisable to remain at least two metres away from others[2]. As this equates to slightly more than six feet, even if you’re near someone who is infected with the coronavirus, germs from an unguarded cough or sneeze shouldn’t reach you. It is also advised that you wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth with an effective face mask and avoid touching surfaces and other items unless it’s absolutely necessary. Coughing is also a fast process that can be hard to avoid if someone is unable to cover their mouth, with an average of 50 mile per hour speeds and an estimated 3,000 droplets in every cough.

How long is a cough contagious?

When exposed to someone who is suffering from a cough, it can be a concern that you may pick up the same condition if you come into contact with them. It’s worth noting that while the infecting pathogen may be infectious, the cough itself is not. However, if the person with the cough isn’t able to keep their mouth covered while coughing, it could easily spread to the people around them[1].

Germs may also spread if they transmit via coughing and reach a surface. Then, if the surface isn’t suitably cleaned after being contaminated and someone touches it, they will pick up the germs.

Whether you’re concerned that you could pick up germs from surfaces or other people, it could put your mind at ease to understand how long they can cause harm. People who are suffering from respiratory infections are often only contagious for around the first week or, if you want an easy guideline to work with, when they’re displaying symptoms. As for the germs themselves, their lifespan on surfaces may vary. Below, we’ve outlined how long different types of germs may survive on surfaces:

  • Cold – between 1 and seven days
  • Coronavirus – between 2 hours and nine days
  • Flu – around 24 hours
  • MRSA – several weeks
  • Stomach bug – between 1 and 4 hours

As some germs can remain active and capable of causing harm for several hours, days or even weeks, it would be strongly advisable to ensure that all surfaces are cleaned with an effective cleaning product that entirely eliminates the germs.