Woman blowing her nose with tissue on a coffee shop

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NEW YORK — Did you think coughing or sneezing in public was a social non-no before the pandemic? A new study finds people are even more mortified to do it now. Over half of Americans say they feel judged when they have to sneeze in public, even when they’re masking up.

The survey polled 2,000 Americans to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted social etiquette around coughing and sneezing, especially as allergy season approaches. Over half the poll (56%) feel the heat of judgmental eyes after sneezing or coughing. Another 55 percent shared they experience a slight moment of panic when they feel the urge to sneeze coming on.

The survey, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Flonase, also reveals at the top thoughts that pop into Americans’ heads when they’re fighting a sneeze or cough. Some of the top thoughts among respondents include: “Great, now people think I’m sick,” “I promise I’m NOT sick,” and “Hold it in!”

Another 24 percent of respondents typically think to themselves, “I hope I don’t have snot in my mask,” as well as “It’s just allergies, I swear!”

Allergies just make social situations worse

Allergy SeasonWith all of these thoughts in mind, it’s no surprise 59 percent agree sneezing fits or allergy attacks always come at the worst time. More than seven in 10 (71%) add there’s nothing more irritating than a never-ending sneezing fit.

Researchers asked Americans to pinpoint the worst parts of seasonal allergies. Respondents say the perfect trifecta of allergy suffering includes a runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, and nasal congestion. Finishing off the list of the top five worst parts of seasonal allergies are sneezing or coughing in public and sneezing fits for seemingly no reason at all.

The survey also asked respondents their thoughts when someone else sneezes in public. Six in 10 immediately say “Bless you,” but only up to three consecutive sneezes. After saying bless you, 37 percent admit their next thought when witnessing a stranger sneeze or cough is “I hope they’re not sick.”

One in three respondents think to themselves, “I hope it’s just allergies.”

“Spring looks different this year but, as always, allergens like pollen will emerge causing sneezing and coughing,” says Dan Wertheim, Brand Manager of Flonase, in a statement. “The results showed the worst parts of allergy season were nasal congestion, runny nose and itchy, water eyes. To stop allergy symptoms from affecting you all season long, and feel more at ease when in public, it’s crucial to find an allergy relief option that works best for you.”

Quit sneezing already!

Allergy SeasonPolite respondents, however, do have a limit for how long they’re willing to listen to someone else sneeze. The average American says they’ll allow up to four sneezes before they consider it annoying.

Regardless of the number of sneezes, sneezing style also plays a factor in respondents’ moods. Thirty percent who classify themselves as a loud and proud sneezer agree they get annoyed by someone else with a loud sneeze. Nearly half the poll (46%) identify themselves as a stealth-like sneezer.

No matter how you sneeze, 46 percent of respondents said they’re dreading the upcoming allergy season because of the additional stress they’re experiencing due to the pandemic. As a result, 27 percent of seasonal allergy sufferers worry their allergies will jump up a notch due to the past year’s quarantine.

“The idea of your allergy symptoms appearing in public during this time can be nerve-racking, though if managed correctly, sufferers can experience relief from springtime allergens and the reactions that follow. Forty-three percent of respondents agreed they always feel caught off guard by allergy season, so now is the perfect time to start researching relief options,” Wertheim adds.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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