Are you a stealth-sneezer? Americans feel judged when sneezing, even while masked up

4 min readApr 9, 2021


According to a study conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Flonase, 55% experience a slight moment of panic when they feel the urge to sneeze coming on. (Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash)

Over half of Americans feel judged when they have to sneeze in public, even when they’re masking up, according to new research.

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.

With over half (56%) of respondents feeling the heat of judgmental eyes after sneezing or coughing, it’s no wonder that 55% 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 analyzed the top thoughts that pop into Americans’ heads when they’re fighting a sneeze or cough. Some of the top thoughts respondents have included “Great, now people think I’m sick,” “I promise I’m NOT sick” and “Hold it in!”

Another 24% of respondents shared they think “I hope I don’t have snot in my mask” as well as “It’s just allergies, I swear!”

With all of these thoughts in mind, it’s no surprise that 59% of respondents agreed sneezing fits or allergy attacks always come at the worst time — and 71% agreed there’s nothing more irritating than a never-ending sneezing fit.

Respondents were also asked to pinpoint the worst parts of seasonal allergies and the trifecta of allergy suffering is reported to be runny nose and itchy, watery eyes and, of course, 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 and found six in 10 do immediately say “bless you” — but only up to three consecutive sneezes.

After saying bless you, 37% of respondents said their next thought when witnessing a stranger sneeze or cough is “I hope they’re not sick.” Another 34% of 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,” said Dan Wertheim, Brand Manager of Flonase. “The results showed the worst parts of allergy season were nasal congestion, runny nose and itchy, watery 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.”

Respondents, however, do have a limit for how long they’re willing to listen to you sneeze — up to four sneezes on average — before it gets annoying.

Regardless of the number of sneezes, sneezing style also plays a factor in respondents’ moods. Thirty percent of respondents who classified themselves as a loud and proud sneezer agreed they get annoyed by someone else with a loud sneeze, compared to 46% of respondents who identify as a stealth-like sneezer.

Regardless of sneezing style, 46% 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% of seasonal allergy sufferers are worried their seasonal allergies will be taken up a notch this season 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,” said Wertheim.

“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.”

“Great, now people think I’m sick.” — 37%
“Oh no, I hope they don’t think I’m sick.” — 35%
“I promise I’m not sick.” — 29%
“Hold it in!” — 27%
“I hope I don’t have snot in my mask.” — 24%
“It’s just allergies, I swear.” — 24%
“Where’s my hand sanitizer?” — 18%
“Oh no, am I sick?” — 12%
“I need to get allergy medicine.” — 10%

Nasal congestion — 42%
Runny nose — 42%
Itchy and/or watery eyes — 38%
Sneezing/coughing in public — 33%
Sneezing fits for no reason — 28%
Constant tickle in my throat — 23%
Coughing fits for no reason — 21%
Running out or not having immediate access to tissues after a sneezing fit — 19%
Having a hard time sleeping — 18%
Finding an allergy medicine that works for me — 15%

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