I’m Worried About Coughing in Public

Elizabeth Rogers avatar

by Elizabeth Rogers |

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Lately, I’ve had a lot of fears. Like others in the global cystic fibrosis community, I’m self-isolating. I follow the CF Foundation’s COVID-19 plans religiously, and much of my county is sheltering in place, with most businesses closed.

I’m fortunate to live with my parents, who can buy essentials to keep us going. Despite this, I can’t spend every day indoors. There comes a point when I have to leave, even if it’s just to protect my mental health

Living within blocks of two parks means I can take short walks outdoors and carefully stay at least six feet away from people. So far, it’s been OK, but there’s always that moment when a familiar tickle rises in the back of my throat. Every CFer knows that sensation, when your mucus starts rumbling and you realize you’re going to cough. Sometimes I can stop it, but many times I can’t. Normally this isn’t a problem. I cough into a tissue or my elbow — problem solved — and the day continues. But now I’m afraid, fearful of other people’s fear. 

Even before the pandemic, coughing in public could elicit a few dirty looks. About five years ago, when I was dealing with an exacerbation and coughing more than usual, a stranger stopped to lecture me. They said I shouldn’t be out in public if I was coughing and sick, and told me I was disgusting. I still have nightmares about it, about being singled out in public and dressed down by someone who didn’t know me or my situation.

Now that people are worrying about COVID-19, I’m afraid to walk outside and cough. For me, it’ll be an innocent gesture: allergies or a tickle in my throat. For those watching me, it’ll be a sign that I’m sick, making me a target for harassment. It’s safe to say that not everyone is acting rationally right now. If I cough, what’s going to happen? 

This is a minor fear in the face of everything, but maybe that’s why I’m focusing on it so hard. Concentrating on a small fear helps keep the larger ones at bay. At a time when the world seems upended, maybe it’s OK to care about the little fears, the ones you can come close to controlling, rather than falling prey to the big ones you can’t control.

I can’t stop myself from worrying, but I can worry about what I can control, and that has to be enough.


Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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