my coworker coughs all day long – can I do anything about it?

A reader writes:

I’ve been looking for advice for handling (or even WHETHER to handle) the issue of a co-worker with a chronic cough. Over the years I’ve worked with several people with bad coughs. I’ve always accepted it as just part of the working world. I’ve never spoken to HR about it because I don’t know if that would make any sense and/or would backfire in some way. Anyway, I now sit near a lady who coughs constantly. The cough is a deep, loud bark and it never stops. She only pauses for a minute or so before resuming. Changes in weather or season only means it goes from bad to worse and then back to bad. I have never spoken to her about it. I can’t speculate as to why she is coughing or whether she is doing whatever she can to control it.

The problem is obvious. To complain about a cough, whether to the cougher or to HR, seems cruel and unfair. On the other hand, the noise is affecting me and the other people who sit in my area, which is to say: it’s driving us nuts. I wear headphones and listen to white noise as loud as possible but that does not block out the cough. I can’t wear the headphones all the time anyway. I should also mention that we cannot move our desks for various technical reasons.

I tried searching the web for advice on this particular issue and came up with very little. It may be one of those untouchable issues. Can I get your take on it?

Ooooh, yes, tricky.

As you already concluded, speaking to her or HR about it probably isn’t the way to go … not only because it could come across as unkind, but also because she presumably can’t control it, it’s a medical issue, etc. HR can’t order her to stop coughing, and if she could order herself to stop coughing, she probably already would have!

However, depending on what your boss is like, one possibility would be to ask her whether might actually be options you haven’t thought of for moving your desk somewhere else. Even though you’re pretty sure there aren’t, sometimes a manager will see a way around something that you didn’t realize would be a possibility. Explain that you’re sympathetic to the coworker, of course, but that the cough is relatively constant and seems to be chronic rather than something short-term, and that you’ve tried headphones and white noise but find it’s still disruptive.

However, if moving you (or her) truly isn’t option, I don’t really see that there are other avenues, unfortunately, since she presumably can’t just stop coughing. If that’s the case, I think you’re just stuck with this less-than-ideal situation.

One thing that might help, though, is to try to focus on feeling appreciative that you’re not the one with the cough! And I don’t mean that in a snarky, holier-than-thou way; I totally agree that this would be annoying to listen to all day. But sometimes changing your mindset can be fairly powerful.

What do others think?

Want to read an update to this post? The reader’s update several months later is here.

{ 168 comments… read them below }

  1. Melissa

    WOW! I could have written this question! We have the same problem in our office. Coughs all day long, so much I think she’s going to pass out. Used to get up and check on her, bring her water, ask if she was okay, etc. Now I don’t say a word. Chronic smoker. Drives me up the wall! Over time I just learned to tune it out. Good Luck!

  2. Sabrina

    Ugh. I used to have this problem. It was a medication that was making me cough. Dr warned me it could happen so the next time I went in I said I couldn’t live with it and she changed it to something else. It sucks, trust me, more for her. If you’re friendly with her you could ask what’s up, say you’re concerned, etc. Then at least you’d know and maybe could try to help. *shrug*

  3. bob

    I would have a word with the coworker in private, maybe over lunch or something, and encourage that person to go see a doctor about it because it can’t be healthy or normal.

    1. Henning Makholm

      Is there anything in the OP’s letter that suggests to you that she has NOT seen a doctor about it and needs to be encouraged to do so? It’s not as if coughing is something the cougher herself is likely to be ignorant of.

      It’s perfectly possible to have a rampant cough which has no medically discernible cause and doesn’t respond to any usual treatment. I had one a few years ago; it lasted for moths completely unaffected by the various drugs my doctor prescribed amid a sequence of chest x-rays, throat endoscopy, airflow metering, ECG, et cetera. It did go away after a few months (instead of staying on for years, for which I count myself lucky), but it was certainly not seeing a doctor that made it so. And you definitely wouldn’t have been able to hear from the cough itself that it was being medically attended to.

      1. bob

        No there wasn’t anything to suggest that she hasn’t seen a doctor nor was there anything to suggest she has which is exactly WHY I suggested it. A chronic cough may be nothing in your case but more likely it’s a symptom of something else possibly serious and also possibly contagious to coworkers so having it checked by a doctor is called P-R-E-V-E-N-T-I-O-N. Look it up when you get off your high horse. Prevention is a useful thing and a case in point would be my best friend who died at 44 last year from a form of cancer that would have been treatable but he didn’t want to go to the doctor for some dumb reason. For the employee in question one trip to the doctor would rule out any number of simple and obvious issues. Furthermore, I note YOU went to the doctor so why shouldn’t the employee for the same reason?

        I’m glad your chronic cough turned out to be nothing but “perfectly possible” covers a small percentage of possibilities and it sure as hell isn’t a plan to good health or anything else.

        You want this one back yet?

          1. anony mouse

            I think Bob is right in this, if rather blunt back to Henning! Nothing in the original letter says the cougher has seen the doctor, further this appears NOT to be just a ‘regular’ cough as the OP describes ‘cough is a deep, loud bark and it never stops. She only pauses for a minute or so before resuming. ‘ That leads me to believe it is either asthma that is not under control, emphysema, or possibly something worse. Could it be something contagious? If it is, and HR did nothing requiring the employee to see a doctor and have a doctor’s letter stating that it is not contagious, could the company be liable for any employees getting sick? I know that I would not want to be the manager who has to explain to the company lawyer why I did not limit our liability by telling the employee that they need to see a doctor and bring me the doctor’s letter to continue working. Yes the cough may be a medical issue which could theoretically put her in a protected class, but without going to the doctor she is not in that protected class and at such, at least in my state, is still an at will employee and if I do not see that letter, you are out the door as you are disturbing the office and may be exposing them to illness.

            To me, this is a discussion for the manager to have with her and he or she needs to man up and have that talk pronto.

          2. Anonymous

            I agree with bob——Why pussyfoot around. Just go to the person and tell him or her that you are concerned.
            Why are people nodays so relucktant to approach someone that seems to need some help????????????????????

            1. kay

              as a person with a chronic cough I promise you that the first thing I did was see a doctor. So now 4 doctors later (and 4 different diagnosis), plus test and all kinds of prescriptions, nothing has changed. Except maybe I’m out a few hundred or thousand dollars. I now have a different job and my coworkers have complained and now I’m being ask to bring in a note from a doctor stating that I am NOT contagious. Guess what? I no longer have insurance and my doctor wants me to pay for a visit just to write me a note. Listen I know it is annoying to you but can you imagine how my life is?! I can’t go to restaurants or movies without coughing! My life is miserable!! I don’t need others snarping behind my back about “I don’t want to be around her, I might get sick”. If I don’t look sick or act sick then leave me the h*ll alone! Chronic cough-er since 2007

              1. Anonymous

                I also am a victim of this chronic cough! I can’t even get a break from myself…it is real annoying! I get light headed..n feel like I’m goin to pass out. Also, it’s mainly an unproductive cough, but I still need to cough. I have seen doctors and they think it’s allergies, I am going to go for a second opinion though. I heard I could have larynx reflux from a customer that was diagnosed with this n displays the same symptoms. I totally get everyone’s irritation! I annoy myself all day everyday n cannot get a break from me.

                1. kay

                  You sound like me. :) People don’t realize all the side effects of a chronic cough! I just looked up Larynx reflux, nope not me. I didn’t think so since I had a bravo (I think that was what it was called) capsule placed inside my esophagus to check out my acid levels. But I wish it was, one of the symptoms is weight loss, boy I could do with that. lol. But I wish there were groups out there for us. I mean the doctors know it is a problem but it is like “well we can’t find nothing wrong so you can just go about living with it”. All the while people are looking at you, frowning at you, and moving away.

              2. DottytiredoftheCough

                Well, I sit in a call center all day with a man whose cough is the most….I don`t even have a word to describe how impacting this cough is! Unproductive? HA! If only! I have to sometimes put my customer on hold so he can get through his coughing fit so I can hear. His cough makes ME gag. I hate it I know it can’t be easy for him but my thing is, if you can’t complain to HR about it who can you complain to? I am thinking shouldn’t he just be allowed to work from home that way he doesn’t affect EVERYONE in the call center? I would feel sorry for him if the cough was Larynx Reflux or something like that, but he is a smoker, he still smokes even with that horrendous cough.

                1. kay

                  I don’t have a lot of sympathy for smokers, they cause some of their own problems. The ones that I am defending (and I’m one) are people that have seen doctor after doctor, tried cough drops, prescriptions, had test and still no relief. I cover my mouth when I cough, when it is a particularly bad spell I go to the bathroom trying to hide it, trying not to disturb everyone. I know that I bother people with my cough, but what can I do? I can’t stay home, I need my job.

      2. ImpassionedPlatypi

        Actually, Henning, it is possible the coworker is ignorant of the problem. She probably knows that she coughs sometimes, but she could easily be ignorant of how frequently she’s doing so. I had this problem a few years ago. I had a couple back to back colds or respiratory infections or something and I’d been sick and coughing for so long that when I started to feel better I didn’t realize how frequently I was still coughing. It got to a point where I felt as though I was better, not sick anymore, but I had a lingering cough and it was only registering to me as an occasional clearing of my throat. Even though my coworkers knew that it was more than that. The only reason I ever knew this was happening is because a coworker that I was friends with outside work talked to me about it. So no, the suggestion to bring it up in conversation and possibly suggest seeing a doctor (if the coworker hasn’t done so) is in no way a bad suggestion, or stupid or in any way really negative.

  4. Anonymous

    I could see how bothersome that could be since I had a roommate who was like your co-worker. I would probably ask to move my desk, but be careful not to blame the whole issue as a result of your co-worker. If your manager isn’t understanding, he/she could see you as a whiner, so I would bring up a different excuse if possible.

  5. Anonymous

    I second the gentle discussion with her – she is probably just as frustrated as you. I was the cougher before, and it turned out that my blood pressure medication was to blame – who knew that blood pressure medication could have any influence on coughing? It was brought to my attention by a coworker, actually, who was in the same boat as you, but had the same experience as what I went through.

  6. Karin Dalziel

    Even though you can’t wear them all the time, noise canceling headphones can be a huge help – even if you are not listening to anything. You have to be careful when buying them – some that say noise canceling are really just like earplugs (look for something like “active noise canceling”), but the real ones are quite amazing in the noise they can block out.

    1. Anonymous

      Absolutely. And the cheap ones aren’t going to work. To get the ones that will block out any noise you need to look at the $150+ range. Shure and Bose make the best. I use them when flying and can’t hear a peep.

      On an unrelated topic….. apparently employers are now requesting to talk to job candidate’s neighbors as part of the background checking process! o_O Unreal. http://www.indeed.com/forum/gen/Career-Advice/Far-Should-Background-Checks-Really-Go/t361147

      1. anon-2

        Way back when, one company I worked for had an internal “detective” — who called my wife in mid-day, asked her about a neighbor, who I found out, had been an employee at the same company and had just been let go.

        I reported it to management, the next day they said “the calls will stop”. The next day, my wife got another call, I had to handle the situation myself and approached the individual directly = STAY AWAY FROM MY FAMILY.

        1. Anonymous

          From an article out today: “The New York State Department of Labor (and possibly other states as well) bonds people with bad credit but only after a job offer is made. The bonding is free to both the employer and the job seeker. ” http://www.chicagotribune.com/chi-background-check-solution-20110526,0,5298132.column What the heck is this all about? How does this help a jobseeker when they are dismissed from candidacy as soon as the employer learns their credit was ruined during the recession? When will this discrimination madness stop?

  7. Anonymous

    When I am faced with a similar situation I always ask myself one question first: what quirk of my own do my coworkers find most annoying? Do they want to sit away from me? Honestly answering that usually solves my problem. Truly. I know this doesn’t seem like a very helpful answer, but give it some thought.

  8. Chris

    I empathize with the cougher. I have allergies and cough all the time during certain parts of the year. I take large amounts of Bendryl at night to control the allergies, but it may be something she cannot help. If she is a smoker she might want to give it up. It will make the coughing worse in the short term, but it will get better in the long term. That is unless there is something more serious like lung cancer.

  9. Anonymous

    We have a woman in the office with the same problem. She is a life-long smoker, her husband died of lung cancer last year, and she has had health problems for years. It’s horrible to listen to, but (and also I am not meaning to be holier-than-thou because I tend to zone out and not hear anything while I’m working to the extent that I jump everytime someone walks into my office) more than that I feel like it sounds horribly painful. The times I’ve had bad colds and coughed like that it’s been absolutely miserable. I’m sure she would stop if she could, she’s a recent widow, and it must just suck. I feel for her.

  10. Anonymous

    We had the same problem with a coworker and it would literally jar me every time all day. No one was too shy to ask the guy what was wrong, or demand that he see a dr. He did and found out that it was his blood pressure medication. Problem solved to everyones relief. I think, in general, most people won’t be offended if you ask them if everythings ok.

  11. Anonymous

    One of my coworkers coughs all day, great gagging gasping lung-wrenching, throat-scraping coughs. It’s a horrifying sound. It sometimes gets better, it often gets worse, but it never ever goes away. She’s in complete denial about just how awful it sounds. When asked if she’s alright or if she’s been to the doctor, she dismisses the concern. “It’s just a little tickle in my throat.” “I have cough drops.” “I’m better today.”

    And this is in a public library.

    I wish there was an answer. No one I work with knows what to do.

    1. Naama

      Could be she knows how bad it sounds and has been to the doctor, but she just doesn’t want to talk about it with coworkers. This problem, if she’s aware of it, is probably stressful enough for her without hearing well-meaning but unhelpful comments and knowing acutely that her cough is bothering others. I don’t know if that perspective might help your situation…I’m just doubtful that she’s really in denial if her cough is indeed this bad! Just reading about it makes me uncomfortable! Ugh.

      1. fposte

        Yes, I suspect these people have had plenty of comments on their coughs even if it’s not from the people writing about them. I don’t think that another comment is likely to result in a solution, just more awareness that this thing they can’t control is really significant to other people. If you’re immune-compromised and are concerned about an issue there, that could be a reason to ask HR for relocation or clarification, but remember that it’s not actually your right to know why she’s coughing, so you might as well not go there.

  12. Sabrina

    I wanted to add that coughers though annoying are nothing compared to snot-sucker-in-ers. Makes me want to throw a kleenex box, pointy end first, right at their eye.

    1. Aniau Jade

      The ones that like grunt and snort all the time? My mother in law does that, and it drives me nuts. It’s so loud it has jarred me from a deep sleep a few times…Every time that I’ve tried to suggest a doctor or something she retorts back “Where will I get the money for THAT!?!?!” Some people just will not go to the either the doctor, or are just stubborn!

        1. AniauJade

          haha lol :) I was more commenting on the fact that there are some extremely stubborn people who absolutely will not enter a hospital unless someone drags them in with physical force.

  13. Long Time Admin

    I’m chiming in here in support of Bob. Apparently this woman sounds like she’s bring up a lung, which does suggest a medical problem. She needs to see a doctor. Your wimpy manager needs to talk to her and insist that she goes to the doctor for a check up. If she already has, then perhaps the cougher could be moved some place where she won’t be causing so much disruption.

    What if it IS something infectious?

    1. kay

      See my response earlier. Up under the replies to Bob. Oh and just so we are clear I DO NOT SMOKE. never have never will. I wouldn’t want to “infringe” on your rights to have a quiet day at work. As far as your comment, if I didn’t have to work I wouldn’t. Do you think I like coughing and hacking all day around people? I have to keep up with everyone else even though I am exhausted from coughing. How about you and all these complainers take up a collection to pay me to stay home?

      1. Anon

        Wow, calm down a little, okay?

        Every one here has said they’re sympathetic to the cougher. Yeah, it must suck. But let me tell you, it’s not much more fun on the other end. I have a chronic cougher in my office… one who has been coughing and clearing her throat about once every 10-90 seconds for about six months. She’s not a smoker, either. And it’s not just that it’s a little annoying and people are just “complainers” who want a “quiet day at work”; the sound is like audible Chinese water torture, and cuts through absolutely everything, including headphones on full volume. Even the most patient of people around her are being driven absolutely nuts by it, and it does affect other people’s health. I myself, about four months ago, suddenly started suffering from anxiety, fatigue, headaches, irritability, affected memory, upset stomach, etc., went to several doctors, tried multiple tests and medications, with no relief of the symptoms until… you guessed it… the cougher went on vacation. The symptoms went away almost as suddenly as they came on. I didn’t even link the two until she came back from vacation and the symptoms started back up again.

      2. Amber

        Okay. You’re being ridiculous here. No one here is blaming the person coughing for the problem. The problem is when it is so constant that it affects the people working around them. The manager is probably already aware of the problem and should have already had a conversation with this person. If the person coughing openly admits to fellow coworkers that they haven’t seen a doctor then they should be told to go see one for health concerns for others. I worked in a classic cubical office setting a couple of years ago and this 30-something year old came in and for a couple of days her cough sounded like she was dying. The next week after the weekend the surrounding 10 cubicles around her were empty. Turned out that she had bacterial bronchitis and passed it to everyone around her. You say that you went to the doctor to have it looked at. Good for you. The article d oesn’t state that the person has or hasn’t seen a doctor. The fact is is that it is affecting others work and it has to be dealt with.

  14. class factotum

    I know someone whose incessant coughing turned out to be cancer in her thymus. I would suspect that if this cougher knew of a medical reason for her coughing, she might already have explained to her co-workers. There are very few people who won’t happily discuss their medical conditions with others, me included, even though other people’s health is boring.

    1. Anonymous

      Being in HR I can tell you that you are dead wrong. Lots of people don’t want co workers or even their boss knowing about their health problems.

  15. Sarah

    I would delicately report it to HR or manager and ask if there is anyway they can approach the subject with the employee, since it is disturbing several people in the immediate area.

    Please try to remain compassionate with this person. You only have to deal with the cough for 8 hours, she has to deal with it 24. It may not only affect her productivity at work, but the rest of her life as well.

    She could have asthma, COPD, allergies, or is taking a medication with a side effect of cough (MANY blood pressure medications do).

    I was plagued with a cough for several months, that had started much like a cold, but soon grew worse. Nothing I did would quash it. My manager had asked me about it, out of concern for my obviously declining health. I could not get restful sleep, coughing all thru the nite, and soon everything suffered. I had finally gone to the doctor, sure I had lung cancer, COPD (we have a family history,despite not smoking) or at the very least pneumonia.

    As it turned out, my new blood pressure meds (that I had to start taking I’m sure thanks to the stress at my job) had a cough side effect. To make matters worse, all the ones I could afford had this same side effect. Unfortunately, I had to switch to one that is well over $100/month to control my blood pressure so I wouldn’t have to deal with the cough. Many do not have the luxury to switch.

    You could always, out of genuine concern, go to her and say “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’re coughing a lot. Is everything okay?”
    Then you’d know why she is coughing, what she’s trying to do about it, and probably get an apology for the disruption.
    That’s what I did.

  16. Anonymous

    I am the chronic cougher in the office. I have been to two GPs, an ENT, and an allergist. I found out I have asthma and an allergy to dust mites. The medications the doctor put me on didn’t help with the cough. I went to the allergist for two years without relief. My air flow is very low and medication didn’t improve it. My lungs have scar tissue due to infections. I am not a smoker. I can tell you I hate having coughing fits at work. It’s very stressful to have this condition, especially at work. I know there are coworkers who are annoyed with me and that just adds to my stress. I drink water constantly and do the cough drops and that will help with temporary relief. My condition is something I have to just live with and it’s really is a trial in day to day life. When the flu is going around and I am shopping at stores I always feel I have to say to the people in line, “Don’t worry, I don’t have the flu, its asthma and allergies.”

    1. well wisher

      get a clove of garlic, boil it in 2 cups of water for about 15 minutes, and take 3 tablespoons of it once a day.

      This natural remedy works wonders – I’m a smoker with asthma (bordering on moderate and severe) and I work in an office where noise is not appreciated. I took this for a week after I had an infection – I stopped coughing when I walk and my breathing is a lot less effort. Garlic strengthens the immune system, which has a lot of effect on the respritory system and lungs. Also, prolonged treatment with natural remedies is known to relieve chronic conditions in the long term.

  17. gary

    I sit next to a fellow that snorts, then immediately grunts at five minute intervals. It’s disgusting. Another fellow coughs so hard, I think he might pass out from it.

    As for smokers, most start coughing about 20 minutes after their last cigarette. That’s because the cilia (hair-like structures in the lungs) are not paralyzed anymore (from the crap in the smoke they inhaled) and are trying to do their job–which is to sweep the junk up and then out of your lungs). Smokers who quit usually feel worse immediately for a number of reasons, one is usually the excessive coughing–but that’s your body trying to clean the crap out of your lungs.

  18. Lauren

    Every so often I am that cougher. Whenever I get a cold, it immediately goes to the chest and I cough for about a month. It’s extremely stressful, trying to control it around my coworkers. My breathing seems to change whenever I’m concentrating on something and the coughing starts. My doctor doesn’t have any answers, so I just take care of myself and try not to catch colds.

    The woman in the cube next to me has allergies and blows her nose constantly, making loud honking sounds. It’s chronic and only goes from annoying to awful and back to annoying again. I’m trying to get my desk moved, but there’s simply nowhere else to go.

  19. Sarah

    The OP does not say this person is a smoker. If she were, wouldn’t that have been mentioned? Whyis everyone assuming she is?

  20. Anonymous

    Everyone who is saying to report it or tell the cougher to see a dr is dumb. I know if someone came to me and told me to see a dr. my first thought would be “who the eff are you, a doctor?” And if I’m the employer I’d say to myself “somebody must be really bored to make a big deal about a cough.”. And what if this person had some serious medical problem that made them cough. You’d really look like an ass. I just don’t see any positives to complaining to anyone.

    1. anony mouse

      What if they did have some really serious medical problem resulting in the cough- say TB- would YOU want them to be sitting in the room with you, exposing you to their disease? Bottom line, if the person is contagious, and the boss does nothing, he can be held liable for the sickness of his other employee. If I, as the boss, ask you to see the doctor, you can be offended all you want. But if you do not do it, you are fired. (Gotta love at will states). There are positives to complaining and there are negatives to ignoring it.

      1. fposte

        I’m not familiar with a precedent that would make the boss liable in such a case–can you tell me which one you’re thinking of?

        1. Anon

          I can’t find a verifying article but about three years ago my roommate was working for a call center where they shared headsets. One of the operators had MRSA and it ended up infecting a handful of other people that used the same headsets. The employer was liable for medical bills but it was all covered under Workers Compensation. I believe they weren’t allowed to sue because of workers comp laws limit any work related illness or injury to fall under workers comp which doens’t pay crap. I think any illnesses you would get would fall under these guidelines as well. Anyone work for a hospital that knows how their employer treats communicable illnesses?

        2. anony mouse

          It is called negligence. The failure to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances by another person and often an entire company means that there has been negligence and carelessness that lead to the injury and harm of another person(s). This has a long standing in case law. If this person is coughing as bad as the OP stated, then the company ignoring the coughing is putting the workers at risk of catching something because they are not exercising reasonable care.

          An example of this is Missouri law which states “Any employee who is exposed to and contracts any contagious or communicable disease arising out of and in the course of his or her employment shall be eligible for benefits under this chapter as an occupational disease.” And if an employer knowingly allows those employees to be exposed, a good lawyer will have them for lunch!

          1. fposte

            As I understand it, though–and I am not a lawyer–that means they’re covered, not that their employer (not the same as their boss, for another note) is negligent–as the previous poster notes, it’s a Worker’s Comp issue, which actually prevents them from suing.

            The thing is, something bad happening isn’t enough to make the employer negligent, and somebody’s having some kind of infection isn’t enough to require an employer to take action–or inform the other employees. People have infections all the time. If we’re talking TB, health departments generally do have guidelines on its handling; employers would probably fulfill their responsibility by following those guidelines. (MRSA doesn’t seem to be as well covered, but there are some CDC and health department guidelines.) But they’re not responsible for knowing what bacteria people are wandering around with or for making sure that people coughing aren’t infectious.

          2. anony mouse

            Actually, there is nothing in the law which REQUIRES an employee to accept Workman’s comp. Rather, they may elect to pay for cost themselves and sue. WC merely requires you to forfeit your rights to sue. But even there, if you can establish that the company knew or had reason to suspect that the person was contagious, then you can file a motion to sue on the grounds of negligence because of the disregard of the company for safety of the employees. In the event that the court allows the suit, then the managers can be named as parties of the suit where they would share in the negligence should you prove that they knew or had reason to know. Now in the case of someone hacking up a lung for several weeks, it would be a very onerous burden for the company and the codefendants to actually argue that they were unaware of the situation when you bring a string of employees forward to testify that they saw, heard and complained about the girl with the bubonic plague. And since the company never required her to go to the doctor, she infected everyone and CDC was none the wiser because former employee and codefendant Pointy Haired Bossman refused to tell la enferma that she needed to go see a doctor and would not be allowed back to work until she complied.

          3. fposte

            Bubonic plague would be skin lesions. You really want your employer to insist you see a doctor every time you get a skin lesion because of your paranoid co-worker?

            Honestly, I think the infection issue is a red herring here. People’s chance of being infectious doesn’t correlate with their being annoying, we’ve all infected tons of people in our lifetime and will do it again so we really can’t get up on our high horses about other people’s being infectious, and offices aren’t going to be found negligent for not requiring everybody with possible swine flu to go to a doctor. If an employee has a particular worry about being infected, s/he can bring that up with HR and ask for relocation, but may also have to accept the answer of “No, there’s no problem.” The company is not obligated to tell you what’s going on with another co-worker, and your not knowing doesn’t mean that they don’t know.

          4. Anon

            This has been a fascinating discussion and I have learned a lot. From what I have googled, whether or not someone can reject workers compensation in order to sue depends entirely upon state laws. Some state’s workers compensation systems provide “exclusive remedy” for on the job injuries and insulates employers from civil lawsuits. In the states that retain the provision that you can reject workers compensation in order to sue the employer, it looks like the employee must fill out a form rejecting the workers compensation coverage BEFORE becoming injured. How many employees actually do this? Honestly. I feel like if I filled out a form rejecting workers compensation coverage I would be painting a big bull’s eye on my forehead saying “lay off.” Also, how many people are educated on these rights? I have worked in the HR in the field of workers compensation I haven’t dealt with this before (mainly because I do not think my state allows you to reject coverage) but I am definitely going to look into this issue more in depth to see if I my small business has to worry about this. Thank you anony mouse and fposte for your contributions. Hopefully this will post in the correct spot but I didn’t see a reply button after the most recent responses.

  21. Joey

    Anonymouse,
    I don’t know what you’re basing your information on, but I have never heard of an employer being held liable in the scenario you pose. And I can’t imagine a court holding an employer liable when the only credible information they have is a cough. Yes employers have a duty to provide a safe work environment, but jumping to the conclusion that a workplace is unsafe when the only facts you have is a cough? Cmon. That’s ridiculous. And trust me as an employer you don’t want to assume there’s some underlying serious medical condition. By merely doing that you invoke ADA protections.

    1. anony mouse

      No you do not. You are acting under the constraints of the law to require the employee suspected of being sick to see a doctor. If they see the doctor and are sick, they are legally protected. If they refuse to see the doctor, they are not covered by ADA and can be fired for refusal to see the dr.

      And as I stated above, according to several states WC laws, you are liable if your employee gets sick from exposure to someone else who is sick. If you suspect they are sick, you have a legal obligation to protect your other employees from the sickness. And ADA does not apply until after they have gone to the DR.

      1. Joey

        I suggest you do your homework before you misinform about ADA protections requiring a dr visit. Do a search for ADA and regarded as.

        And I’m really interested to know which states you’re referring to when a coworker catches the flu from another co work is considered a work related injury or illness.

  22. ex cougher

    I had this problem, it was a blood pressure medication that made me hack and cough all day, it was horrible. Got off the med, stopped coughing. That could be the problem, approach him in a nice way about it.

  23. Joey

    Alison,
    I really like your blog better when you don’t end posts with What do others think? That phrase seems to provoke a lot of bad advice. I’m not sure if you do that as a way to increase the comments, but it really takes away from the usefulness, and frankly the appeal of your blog.

      1. Joey

        I interpret it more as you not having a lot of confidence in your answer. Same as when you give either or advice. Yes there are some thoughtful and well informed commenters, but it really seems like it brings out the bad advice and hateful comments.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Nope, I’m usually overly-confident, if anything :) But I like to hear what other people think, particularly on some of the questions that are more grey than black and white.

          I actually really take pride in giving either/or advice when I do it, because often the answer can’t be definitively determined from the info in the letter, and I think it’s important that people consider all the options — i.e., maybe their boss is really crazy, but it’s also possible that the letter-writer is causing the problem. I have a pet peeve about advice-givers who sort of fill in the details on their own, when several scenarios are roughly equally possible!

  24. KP

    Further complicating this issue, your coworker may have Tourette syndrome, with this cough manifesting as a vocal tic.

  25. Clobbered

    I have to agree that the question (which is a recent development IIRC) doesn’t match the usually confident tone. Main problem is that this tends to be abused in other blogs to cover for a poorly thought-out answer, which is never the case here.

    I think it is safe to say that people will share their opinion without it.

  26. Anonymous

    Cough-variant asthma could be an issue here. I have a coworker with pretty bad asthma who coughs a lot, and others have doubted her condition, thinking she’s really got something contagious. In addition, she has allergies and people still insist on wearing perfume (which she is allergic to).

    Based on my experience, I think that any confrontation of this coworker should be from a genuine place of concern.

  27. Jamie

    I feel for the cougher – and I also really feel for the OP. I can imagine that situation being extremely irritating but with no real villain.

    I don’t know the specifics of the OP’s office layout – but dealing with co-worker noise is one of the problems with the open plans that some tout as being so great. You can’t give everyone their own office, but the more subdivided it is the better – to have options as to how people can be grouped.

    One of my former co-workers had his own office – next to the office I shared with someone else at the time – and he would sometimes hoot very loudly, then giggle. Yes, hoot…like an owl.

    He said sometimes he got bored and the quiet bothered him and hooting cheered him up – which, I guess, explained the giggling.

    He was very helpful in helping me move to the other side of the office because my need for quiet “thwarted his creativity” and he couldn’t work with my “silent repression” which he could feel even when he couldn’t see or hear me.

    He’s a former co-worker so I can find the humor in it now…at the time it wasn’t so funny.

    He said sometimes he was bored and couldn’t stand the quiet.

    1. Jamie

      Sometimes I really need an edit feature :).

      Next time I will remember the difference between cut & paste and copy & paste before submitting.

  28. SecinUK

    On a slightly different but similar subject I work with someone who sings constantly at the top of her voice. I often have distressed people on the phone and it really doesn’t help when she is belting out the latest Lady Gaga song.

  29. Jenny Penny

    The Roman emporer Caligula had a cousin with a chronic cough. It got on his nerves, so he had his cousin beheaded.

    We’re not allowed to do that these days. Try some of the suggestions above, and if they don’t work, just thank your lucky stars that you’re not the cougher.

  30. Ringing Ears

    What are the rights of the employees that must suffer due to the constant cougher?
    We too have a long term smoker in our office. The employee coughs for 20 to 30 minutes every moring after arriving to work and throughout the day. When this employee get sick (which is often) it’s worse. The coughing can be every 5 to 10 minutes with several episodes of coughing to the point of gagging and followed by extended blowing of the nose. I’ve witnessed this employee coughing all over the copier and printers.

    When asked if she’s okay. We get comments such as “it’s hot in here” or “it’s just allergies”. When asked if she’s taking any medication for it, the comments are “I want it to break up on it’s own. I can’t take anything because it will raise my blood pressure.”
    The employee does nothing to try and lessen the distraction. Never covers their mouth or washes their hands after one of the spells. All of the other employees who are forced to sit near the cougher are wearing headphones. However, this has been going on for years and is getting worse (cough is deeper and more frequent gagging) forcing us to have to increase the volume in an attempt to eliminate the noise. As a result, many of my coworkers and myself have developed a constant ringing in our ears. Speaking for myself, I know it’s the headphones because the ringing gets worse when I wear them. Let me clarify that the coughing is so loud that it can be heard in the manager’s office sometimes even with the door closed. It can be heard several isles over from the source.
    As you can imagine, people talk and complain. Several complaints have been made to the manager but the only response is “we can not force her to go home since she is an hourly employee”. After many more complaints, the management has told the cougher that they were distracting others and needed to cover their mouth and go to the bathroom to blow the nose. However the cougher often will not do this especially if managment is not around.
    It’s gotten to the point where people are openly complaining within hearing distance of the cougher. The complaints are getting more frequent and louder. What can be done?

    1. Ringing Ears

      When does ADA come into protection? Can the openly complaining be cosidered harrassment?

  31. sad

    I have the same problem, guy here coughs every 30 seconds (yes I timed it using a stop watch on my phone) all day long, hundreds of times per day.

    I dread going to work because I know that its going to be torture all day long listening to it. Its like getting abused or violated by someone and cant do anything about it. I even think about it while I’m away from work. He comes in early, and never takes lunch, and stays late, so no matter when I come in, he’s there coughing, so I cant get a break.

    My job as a programmer requires deep thinking, and every time I try to think about something he coughs, and I have to start over. I think I’m going to get fired over it because its affecting my work (I don’t even want to come to work because of it). Rather than thinking about work, I’m just waiting for the next cough, as if I’m now brain washed like a rat in a cage that has been conditioned.

    I don’t believe he has any medical problems, its just a habit cough he has, maybe trying to get attention, or make other people feel sorry for him for some reason.

    1. ringingears

      I understand the rat in a maze feeling! I can feel myself tense up everytime the continued coughing turns to the gut wrenching gags. I can feel the tension every day. There are days when I can’t even get to my desk before the coughing/gagging starts. It instantly puts tension in you.

      Management doesn’t want to deal with it. After several more complaints, her manager has said that we need to be more mature and stop complaining. It’s causing a loss of production in the department. I’ve been trying to see what rights the coworkers have but have not been able to find anything on it. I feel sorry for the cougher but I do not think I should be subjected to this stress on a daily basis. I guess at this point, my only choice is to find another job.

      1. Vicki

        Set up a voice recorder for 30 minutes, and take that to your manager.
        Keep a log of interruptions.
        Tell HR your productivity suffers.
        Find out if you’re in an at-will employment state. (You probably are).

        Seriously, I don’t understand why the listeners are told to just “suck up and get over it” when a co-worker is actively destroying productivity. What if that person was playing a radio. Or walking into your cube every 5 minutes to talk?

        It should be HRs job to put the coughing/singing/snorting co-worker in a place where s/he isn’t bothering everyone else.
        And yes, sometimes that might mean someone is going to have to say “JoAnne – you are causing problems for everyone else and we must solve this one way or another.”

      1. kay

        you all make me sick! I’m on the other end (although I do cover my mouth) of that cough and when I feel a really bad spell coming on I go to the restroom. I try and NOT bother my coworkers but it is a CHRONIC cough! NOTHING WORKS! So I ask you what can I do?

  32. Vicki

    > the noise is affecting me and the other people who sit in my area,

    Can you turn this problem around and make it not about you (“She’s driving me nuts”) but about the Company (“this is adversely affecting productivity”).

    Get other co-workers to back you up. Go to your manager or HR together. Keep records. Make it clear that this isn’t “just a cough” or one person’s over-sensitive reaction. This affects the bottom line. A constant disruption to productivity costs money.

    How would your manager handle a noisy air conditioning unit? An employee who played a radio all day? A talker who interrupted everyone in the team? Someone who brought a crying child to work? This is no different. This isn’t about being “mature”. This is about maintaining a professional environment where everyone can work.

    Change the focus away from your personal feelings and bring it back to the effect on the work.

  33. Grossed Out Myself

    I have a similar problem. I sit near a co-worker who belches. Not gentle, unavoidable burps, but great, loud, mouth wide open belches of the kind that you would just KNOW they smell bad too! Like, he just opens his mouth and a great BUUUUURRRRRPPPPP. He does this about once an hour. It’s not just me, the people who sit beside me say its absolutely disgusting. It’s like he enjoys grossing people out. He never even says “excuse me”. I am amazed that some people have absolutely no manners. It makes me nauseous. I have been wondering if this is worthwhile complaining about. But how do you tell a person who obviously is oblivious and has no manners to, er, acquire manners?
    We’re thinking of getting him an anonymous bottle of Pepto Bismol, placing it on his desk with a little note. “For your constant indigestion. Please drink liberally.”

    1. Ringing Ears

      Some one actually left cough drops and cough syrup on the chronic smoker/cougher’s desk. All it did was make them mad and she still refused to cover her mouth.
      They just don’t see that their bad manners are impacting anyone else or just don’t care.

  34. Jamie

    I was thinking about this post and had to pull it up to comment.

    I’m now one of those coughers!

    I’m recovering from some bug – feel fine except for this residual cough which explodes about once an hour since yesterday.

    I have my own office and the door is shut – I’m washing my hands 100x a day and not touching anything communal…yet every time I cough I think of you guys and how my co-workers must be thinking what you’ve posted.

    So on behalf of coughers everywhere…we’re sorry!

  35. Anonymous

    Someone having an unchecked chronic cough can be very dangerous. Tuberculosis is a very real threat. Smokers can contract TB easier than nonsmokers and when you go in for a TB test they will ask you if you’re around a chronic smoker.

    People get colds & sinus infections, they can have coughs, but if it’s going on for a number of months there is a problem. Why should my or anyone’s health be put at risk because of your illness. I feel like a doctor needs to clear you.

  36. ringingears

    In our office, mgmt has come out and said that they do not want to hear any more complaints about the cougher. And they wonder why survey results for our department are low? We can’t concentrate and they don’t listen.

  37. Brooks

    I work with a gentleman who continually coughs a dry, projectile type cough. I have counted and usually more than 25 times day and some days I am out making calls so it could be higher. Seems a bit absurd. I cannot be the only one in the office that recognizes this ‘condition’—feel like I am in the early stages of the movie “Outbreak” every day I go into work—miserable, sure he is too—if any Dr’s out there that read this pls. post a comment

  38. Cough Complainer

    I work with a chronic cougher as well. I too have timed the cough and it is a cough every minute or less. The last time I complained, all that I got was a bad name around the office for complaining. I wasn’t concerned about my own health, but for the health of a woman who was pregnant. I was concerned that the cougher had pertussis and if the pregnant co-worker caught it after her baby was born there would be serious consequences for the baby. Now I have the reputation as the ‘cough complainer’, the co-worker still coughs all winter and has become really hostile in repsonse to any question about her cough. I can’t even, out of concern, ask her if she is feeling well. Her boss once gave her cough drops and it only angered her.

    1. Rana

      If it’s any comfort, it’s unlikely to be pertussis (whooping cough). Believe me, you’d know if it were — the coughs are really disturbing with loud “whoop” sounds in between as the poor sufferer tries to catch a breath, and they are bad enough that they can cause vomiting and even break ribs.

      So if your co-worker is still able to work through them, annoying as the coughing may be, it’s not pertussis.

  39. Anonymous

    Constant coughing and nose blowing disrupts people and drives many up the wall. And if you complain they just say ‘be glad it’s not you. Imagine how they feel. and that they can’t help it!’ But what about those people who no matter how hard they try they just can’t tune it out or ignore the sound? There is actually a condition that makes it as impossible to ignore as being poked by a hot iron. More info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misophonia

    Living with noise isolation earbuds and music on blast for the past two weeks because of all the coughing and snorting going on at the house.

  40. BJT

    Hi. I am currently suffering from an intermittant chronic cough, and have had it for over a year. I have been to the GP again and again (about 15 times), had an investigation and operation by ENT, referred to a Gastro guy, taken various medications over months and months to try to stop it (nothing worked), am due to have an endoscopy in Jan and now been referred to a cough clinic. I am at my wits end and have tried to hurry all the investigations and procedures along, but the GP and hospital decide the timescales. I am not infectious. I work in a tiny office with one other co-worker .. who has put a complaint in and I am now at risk of losing my job. I sympathise that this affects the other person, but I cannot help it and wish the medical profession would work out what the cause is and sort it out – it doesn’t just affect work, it is ruining my whole life. Please try to be understanding of those around who may be irritating you .. and be thankful that you are not suffering the actual cough!!

    1. Anon

      It’s funny, because I’m on the other end but have a very similar story.
      My co-worker has had a chronic cough for about six months. It’s driving everyone around her insane, but myself especially because my work requires extreme concentration.
      The stress from the constant coughing (which I liken to Chinese water torture) has caused irritability, affected memory, anxiety, upset stomach, fatigue, and other symptoms. I’ve been to several doctors, been on multiple medications, done many tests, but there’s nothing wrong with me, and nothing helps relieve the symptoms.
      Well, almost nothing.
      When the cougher went on vacation, the symptoms all but disappeared, and then came back about 2 or 3 days after she returned. I hadn’t even thought it was related to her coughing until that point, but now I understand why I go home so absolutely drained even during slow work days.
      My productivity has gone down, and I find it more and more difficult to concentrate at work. My job requires me to remember lots of things, come up with creative solutions, etc., but I often find myself mentally “foggy” and confused now. I was up for a promotion (and a much needed raise!) but now I don’t think that’s going to happen; I can’t handle the additional stress in my current condition. On top of that, my once-vibrant social life has all but dried up because the upset stomach means I can’t have a drink or go out to eat, and the anxiety prevents me from going anywhere with large crowds or that are too far from home. I used to organize social events for up to 50 people, and ran a successful afternoon tea at a local historical home, but had to give all that up.
      It’s crazy what can affect the human brain. Being exposed to chronic coughing is not just a minor annoyance one can necessarily shrug off. It can cause mental strain that impacts every aspect of the person’s life, including the quality of their work.
      And aside from the health issues, I have to ask customers to repeat themselves all the time because I can’t hear them over her coughing, or I have to apologize for the background noise. Whenever I’m on a conference call I have to make sure to put myself on mute whenever I’m not talking so that her coughing doesn’t interrupt the call. What’s worse is when she’s talking to her own customers – in mid-sentence she’ll just hack straight into the phone and then keep talking like nothing happened! It’s so unprofessional, but it’s been going on for so long she doesn’t seem to care anymore.

  41. Anonymous

    Everywhere I go where I live (Upper Midwest), people seemingly cough at me in a malicious manner. “Umm, do I know you?! Can I help you? Is there something you want to tell me? Do you get your kicks from coughing at people?” It’s gotten to the point where I’m afraid I’ll have a panic attack when I go outside (though now it’s happening in aparments too) from the consecutive people coughing in a malicious manner at me. It’s a form of gang harassment/stalking.

  42. Anonymous

    I also work with a chronic cougher. She is a chain smoker who has coughed every 30 seconds since she started working here about 4 yrs ago. Its very phelmy and gross and several of us are sick of listening to it. we shouldn’t have to be subjected to this. I agree with other posters who say this is similar to a loud person who talks a lot or a noisey office machine. I listen to music on my headphones and I can still hear her cough. Listening to music very loudly for hours a day can damage your hearing. I shouldn’t have my hearing damaged for someone who doesn’t have enough sense to quit smoking when she’s coughing up her lung every few seconds.

  43. Anonymous

    I work next to a cougher. It’s not chronic, but several times of the year he gets a cough which lasts for weeks, I dread these times of the year. And when he does, it’s constant throughout the day. What ticks me off is he doesn’t do anything to try and get rid of it, or subside it! He doesn’t suck on cough drops, he doesn’t drink water. And like someone else wrote, it wear on me! I also dread going to work knowing I have to listen to that all day. He’s not that approachable, so I feel like I can’t say anything to him. I don’t think he coughs on purpose, but sometimes I think he does it because he is bored, and doesn’t realize he is doing it. What really ticks me off more is we had a meeting yesterday and he didn’t cough once at the meeting, I was listening for it. Yet today, he’s back at his desk coughing. What is with that?? I talked to another co-worker who feels like it drains him too, and also noticed he didn’t cough at the meeting. I haven’t said anything to my supervisor in the past, but I just can’t fathom having to listen to this for another few weeks! Maybe I can put it back on my supervisor, just he honest, ask him what he suggests. Some may not be bothered by it, but to me it is annoying, like a constant barking dog. I was so p*ssed tonight after I got home, I googled to see if anyone else had these issues. While it’s comforting to see I am not the only one who has to deal with it, why should we have to? I could see someone having a cough for like a week from a cold, but when it goes on and on and on, it’s VERY ANNOYING!!

  44. Anonymous

    There’s a cougher here. Coughing for 13 months now: originally ill, the cough then became on of their numerous tics. Now they are ill again which means a magnification of intensity. Coughs are more than once a minute (used the stopwatch on my phone) and I can feel my chest cavity vibrate for many. They take no medication, drink no water. I honestly am at the end of my tether and considering my options to get out of here.

  45. Anonymous

    I actually think it’s best to talk to HR. A cough spreads bacteria. They should move her to a place that doesn’t put everyone else at risk, or move everyone else.

    But no, you can’t hold it against her. Or speak to her about it. That violates EEO. But sitting next to her violates your right to a safe workplace.

  46. Ralski

    Listening to it now as I type this…. for 3 years we have 4 coughers in our office, all with different tones and styles. Our office is one big room with about 25 people, and every bit of noise reverberates across the walls and into our cubicles. One cougher is also a snorter who sucks up his nose goblins in a rather abrupt manner. All this, aside from the loud talkers and cursing managers. Definitely an interesting way to spend 8 hours crunching numbers as an accountant. And they wonder why I make a few errors here and there? Distracting myself with headphones is fine, but sometimes just silence (like a closed door) would be nice. Oh well, back to the zoo. =\

    1. Anonymous

      I feel for you. I’ve already commented above as well. When you think about it, it can be like a prison sentence having to put up with this for 8 hours. I think alot of us have a condition called misophonia, we get distracted and annoyed by certain noises, where others might not. You might google this condition to see if you fall into this category. I work in a cubicle maze and it’s not much better, sound travels. I envy those who have offices, or those who get to work at home. I just want to be able to control my environment. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t pick a profession where you sit at a desk. Hang in there, alot of us feel like you, but I know that doesn’t change anything.

  47. MrVicciV

    We have the same problem in our office with an individual who has had a very heavy, loud cough for at least 5 years. Nothing beats when you’re on the phone with customers and then have to pause while my coworker hacks up a piece of lung (which is totally hearable to the sad soul on the other end of the phone). When politely confronted multiple times about the cough it has always ended up with a heated debate. Our answer to the problem was to pester the employee until they had no choice but to see a doctor.

    People with chronic coughs need to go to the doctor, no excuses, until it is cleared up – NO EXCUSES. It’s disruptive to coworkers, customers, and is unsanitary. Coughing into your hands then handling papers and office equipment is just wrong. If they ever get a bug you can be sure they’re going to share it.

    • If you’re that person who is coughing, get treated. NO EXCUSES!
    • If you or your office is having a problem with a employee who has a chronic cough the answer is to get some thick skin and start bothering them back. Keep asking when are they going to go to the doctor – Put some Social Pressure on.

  48. ThisGurl

    I just googled this topic because I have a cougher at work, I can not believe there is so many people out there with the same problem, it honestly makes me feel sooo much better because I thought it was just me and my low tolerance for human noises. I loved the post about ‘Misophonia’. I googled it, and that is me in many ways! This guy has been coughing for well over a year, I think it started out with a cold, and the cough just never left. There are times it seems like its almost getting better and not at often, but then, like currently, it will be back in full force. I dont know if he realizes how bad it is, and I do sympathize, because like a lot of people here mention, sometimes the person doesnt realize. BUT I know I am not the only person who is irritated by this sound because others have made comments to him like, ohhh Wow that cough is back maybe you should get into the dr… Just friendly comments to show they are concerned for his health rather then our own irritibility and even productivity. However he just says that he has seen a dr. But he doesnt DO anything for it… like others mentioned, no water, cough drops, sick days to get better!!! It happens in meetings (I am so glad I dont work as part of his team as least so dont have many meetings with him, but the ones I am in… yep… he coughs)
    One day when there was actually a couple people coughing around the office (others were due to seasonal colds which is temporary and you cant blame them, but still was driving me nuts with his combined chronic cough and these new ones added in) sooo I left a pack of halls nicely set out in the coffee area…. NO ONE touched them….. Geeze people. Take a hint.
    Currently our office doesnt really have the room for people to move, however we are going to be renovating and expanding our space, which could end up good if the cougher is moved somewhere FAR away from me…. BUT now I have the problem that if I make a formal complaint to the head of the office I might be the one who is moved somewhere secluded…. and I dont want that, I like where I am located… well other then the damn noisy old printer a few people still insist on using even though there is a more quiet new one here as welll… yep, Misophonia, hahaha

    But I do like the comment of using the social pressure to get him to do something about it, I hear others comment to him, just need to stand up and voice myself too and maybe others will as well.

  49. BJT

    I am the one coughing at work and I assure you all that many people DO try to sort it out, but that Doctors do not always get to the bottom of it!! So have a little sympathy for those suffering the cough aswell as yourselves for having to listen to it. I have had the problem for 18 months on and off and have been to the docs SO many times .. I have had lots of different tests and treatments but nothing has worked or found a root cause – I have been through ENT, Gastro and the Respiratory Depts at the hospital over the last year and nothing has worked. Many chronic coughs remain undiagnosed and most coughers are embarrassed themselves, so have a little heart ! By the way I am a non-smoker.

    1. Anonymous

      I appreciate your efforts to try and remedy the situation. However, there are some that don’t do anything about it. I think some have just gotten used, it has become a habit, and don’t realize how much they are doing it. I know when I get a sesasonal cough, I continually suck on cough drops and drink water all day to reduce my coughing. Most wouldn’t even know I had a cough. Maybe chronic coughers should see if they can work at home? Or, maybe find another job where you aren’t in an office environment? I feel for you, but it gets very old and disrupting when others have to listen to all day long.

      1. Anonymous

        Good for you. Glad that works for you. Me? I’ve had asthma since I was born and spent one entire winter a couple of years ago with a deep, hacking cough from November when I got the first sinus infection that led to bronchitis that led to pneumonia until May when I finally got well. I spent nearly as much time with doctors as I did at work trying to get my breathing under control. I’m sorry if my illness bothered you, but it was “bothering” me even more. I saw no reason to use up PTO since my condition was not contagious, and I had my dr’s approval to continue working. I need my paycheck and PTO as much as you do. I suggest earplugs or getting your own seat moved if you can’t show a little compassion for those with a chronic illness.

        1. noname

          Thanks, Anonymous. So many ignorami out there who just assume that the chronic cougher has NOT seen a doctor, has a curable condition, and is therefore just doing it to annoy their coworkers! It is 1000-times more annoying to the sufferer, as they are dealing with it 24/7. Do some research. There are many chronic lung conditions that are not contagious, not caused by smoking (so no, you can’t blame the cougher there, either), and cause chronic coughing. Are you prepared to pay this person’s salary so they can stay home? Some compassion, and gratitude for your own good health, is in order here.

          1. suffering

            SO many coworkers and myself are at our wits end. I can’t concentrate at work, I walk over to ask a colleague something, dude frickin’ coughs like he’s trying to shoot his lungs all over the floor, and I can’t even remember why I got up. THIS HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR YEARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Dude is so overweight he has a special chair that three of me could sit in, Dr. told him losing weight would help his chronic bronchitis. He says he tried dieting but nothing works (as he is eating an entire box of ho ho’s). No water, no cough drops, no effort. I sit all day with headphones on, can’t hear my phone ring, don’t know when people come up behind me, but I can still hear that MFer cough!!!!

            “Are you prepared to pay this person’s salary so they can stay home?” Salary is all this dude gets, how can you do ANY work when ALL you do is cough ALL DAY LONG. A friend of mine is on his “team” and says he has no clue what his role is in his group, ALL HE DOES IS COUGH. Compassion? Running very very very thin…

          2. Anon

            I will be extremely gracious for my own good health… when I get it back.
            In the meantime, I have to deal with the daily anxiety, irritability, headaches, fatigue, declining work performance, and other health issues caused by listening to someone cough multiple times per minute for months and months and months and months on end.
            Are you prepared to pay my salary so I can stay home, recover, and get back to my normal life?

  50. suffered boy..

    I see many people coughing when they see me…one after another…they pretends like they have a cold…I take it as a harassment…my life is destroyed…could you tell me…whats going on..?

    1. Anonymous

      Hey. I am the same person who made the comment below about earplugs + earmuffs. I had the same problem that you have. It still happens now and then. Basically, the people who are coughing are losers and they are scared of you. The only way to get over it is to become emotionally stronger yourself so you can walk around at your own pleasure and not worry about the “barking” of hopeless and scared losers. It took me a year or so to get over this. I am about to turn 24.

        1. Anonymous

          Of course some people just have coughs. But there are others who use coughing as an outlet for their covert aggression. They cough when they see someone they don’t like. It’s hard to prove but it’s true.

            1. Anonymous

              It seemed silly to me at first too… but someone doesn’t use language like “my life is destroyed” unless something serious is going on. This kind of covert aggression is very serious. It has the same psychological effect as bullying or emotional abuse. Just know that it is possible to get through this. You will eventually adapt and become immune to the effects.

              1. ME, Yeah ME

                The REASON why the distracting noise is made doesn’t matter. People cannot get their work done with constant endless hacking 4 feet away from them. A one week cold is one thing, all day everyday every month is a whole different thing. And this person is a smoker too. Awesome. Should all of us ask this person to pay for the headphones we have to buy just to be able to concentrate?

  51. JP

    I have the same problem at my job but I’m scared that she has some type of TB or disease that can be infectious. I have jokingly asked her about it to bring attention to the issue, but to no help. Sometime I just yell out “Please stop coughing!” and she’ll stop for a while. lol. I have no problem with HR or calling the CDC to get her checked out. Some people don’t care about the health of others especially when they don’t care about thier health!

  52. Anonymous

    Guys, I am in a similar situation and I believe I have found a solution: Hearos NR33 Foam Earplugs in combination with Howard Leight Leightning L3 Shooter’s Earmuffs. Together these should provide around 45 dB of real-world attenuation in the cougher’s frequency range. Total cost is around $25. The plugs only cost $2-3, but I am wearing them right now and they are not working. I need the added attenuation from the earmuffs. Fare well!

  53. Going Mad in the UK

    I have been reading these and I really could be writing about a work colleague who sits next to me, it’s a Global problem. I have the same problem in that she constantly barks all day, it starts with small dog type bark and then turns into a seals mating call. I have spoken to her about it and she says there is nothing wrong with her; I have mentioned TB, and other lung problems and she just laughs. It’s like she just doesn’t care. She also doesn’t take very good care of herself, which is another issue entirely. But for anyone sitting next to someone with a very loud persistant cough knows its like torture. I have actually spoken to higher management as it has started to affect the team, and they agree it has become an issue and although a delicate situation it does need to be dealt with. Everyone who has the problem has my sympathy, but dont suffer in silence; Would you put up with someone constantly tapping a pen on the desk, or humming all the time, the answer is NO, you would politely ask them to stop; although you can’t ask someone to stop coughing, you can politely point out, that they have pushed you to breaking point and that if they don’t go off sick, you will, stating that a works colleagues poor health issue and caused you to become unhinged, and that you will not be responsible for what you do with the stapler sitting on your desk. (ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH)

    1. Anonymous

      Lol. The part about the seal is really funny. Very similar to my own experience. However, I have a few issues with your approach to this problem: 1) I have not heard of this technique actually solving the problem in the past, 2) It increases the competition for desk space far away from the cougher, especially from coworkers who were formerly “blissfully ignorant” of the cough, 3) Obviously the comment about the stapler is a joke, but if not you can get fired for threatening to physically harm someone, 4) In the eyes of “superiors” who do not have to deal directly with the cough, you are nothing more than a complainer, and this could hurt your chances for promotion.

      I have had the privilege of encountering these “aggressive coughers” not only in the workplace but also in public places such as classrooms, parks, restaurants, and on the street. This experience is what has led me to believe that the coughers are subliminally expressing some sort of anger or resentment at ME.

      As a result of this, I have also read about this issue from the perspective of schizophrenics (real, professionally diagnosed ones). For example, there is a whole group of people who think they smell bad because others are constantly sniffing and coughing around them, even though when they ask, everyone tells them they smell fine. I have even watched a video that was taken secretly of the coughing of people nearby to a girl who went to eat in a restaurant.

      Without going into philosophy/psychology and the reasons someone might have to aggressively cough at strangers, I really believe that strong earplugs an earmuffs are the only plausible solution to this problem until you reach a stage of emotional development where you are no longer affected by the coughs, or are no longer worried about the consequences of confronting and threatening the person directly.

  54. Midwest worker

    I say you need to say something. I was just talking with a neighbor about someone at her office with this. My neighbor finally said something to the person… after going to the doctor, turned out the person had whooping cough… and it’s been weeks now that they’ve all been exposed and of course in turn exposed others not there… babies and children, the elderly and immuno-supressed people, which includes me… glad I got my pertussis vaccine updated a couple of years ago!

  55. Anonymous

    The chronic cougher in our office is overweight and a generally loud let-it-all-hang-out there person anyway. When he isn’t coughing he is making obnoxious throat scratching snorty sounds. I look around to see if my coworkers are as appalled as I am with an “I can’t believe anyone would make that sound in public” look on my face, but nobody says anything. My coworkers wear headphones and listen to music, but I resent that I have to adjust to the coughing. I want to hear the general office goings on – without the nerve-racking random gun shot coughing sounds. It is relentless and exhausting. We all get sick from time to time and have some random coughing, but this is chronic and what I just don’t understand is that he seems to take it in stride and barrel on through. If you’ve get a chronic problem affecting others then addressing the problem should be the number one priority in your life. Repeat until solved: seek medical attention, exercise, eat right, get proper rest, etc. My sympathy to those that have diligently yet unsuccessfully tried to address their problem, but in the end you need to be willing to inconvenience yourself before inconveniencing others. You need to stay home, work from home, ask for an enclosed office, etc. For those that are not self-aware or just don’t care and expect everyone else to deal with it…you suck and there must be a special place in hell reserved for you!

  56. Anonymous

    This person sounds sick. It could even possibly be serious. Someone needs to try to convince him to check this out with his doctor. You are going to feel horrible if it turns out to be something bad.

  57. Anonymous

    I think everyone is missing the point. Whether the cough is medical, smoking-induced, or habitual (a frighteningly high incidence), it is irrelevant. It is insanely annoying whatever the cause. If you are the one who is perpetrating this ear-piercing torture on your colleagues, over & over, it isn’t incumbent on the victim to seek a solution; rather, the onus is 100% on you to get your act together, muster an ever so slight semblance of courtesy and respect for those around you, and find a way not to drive everyone else nuts!!! And if that means moving your desk, taking a job in another department where you’re not surrounded by others who do exercise basic office etiquette, or even leaving the company, then that’s not only your prerogative, but your absolute obligation. The notion that a persistent cough is somehow less abrasive based on its cause is rubbish and woefully dillusional. Why wouldn’t you report this to HR. Isn’t is HR’s duty after all to ensure a sane work environment? The perpetrator clearly couldn’t care less about offending you,so why would you care about offending him? Enough already with placating the wicked. Watch a couple episodes of the A-Team and watch how they unapoligetically squelch the heretorfore bullies – awesome!

  58. ME, Yeah ME

    WORKING WITH SOMEONE WITH A CHRONIC COUGH IS UNBEARABLE. IT’S ALL DAY EVERYDAY FOR MONTHS AND MONTHS ON END. SMOKER’S COUGH OR COPD OR WHATEVER —- I DON’T CARE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ——- I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO DEAL WITH THIS DISTRACTION WHEN TRYING TO DO MY JOB. AND I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO WEAR HEADPHONES FOR 9 HOURS A DAY EITHER.

    1. wendy

      you people have no clue at all what its like being on the other side of this and dont seem to care about anyone but yourselves. I have had a cronic cough for 3 years seen ever doctor and specialist and they all tried all sorts of things but nothing has worked . i lost one job because of people like u compaining yet my doctors have wrote notes saying im not contagious or anything. maybe u could try to talk to the person and see whats going on before u make all these judgements

      1. be2beme

        I can see that dealing with a chronic cough is tough but listening to someone cough and snort snot every minute or two for 8 hours is a form of torture. Contrary to what I read here that the cougher is aware and it’s-worse-for-me, I don’t think people are self-aware at all. If they were they might apologize once in awhile. They never do. They never take themselves out of a room if they have an especially bad bout. They don’t try having a cup of hot tea, having cough drops, or seeing a doctor. They’re oblivious.
        My daughter has persistent sinus problems and even as a kid, she apologizes and removes herself when she knows she’s going to make a lot of noise. Making the majority of the office suffer for the ailment of one person is unfair. I’m surprised the “manager” couldn’t offer a single suggestion for a problem is so common.

  59. Anon

    I work with a chronic smoker who started 4-1/2 months ago and has had those most disgusting gagging cough I have ever heard. If she passes out one day I won’t be surprised. If you happen to see her in one of these coughing fits her face is red and she sounds as if she is not able to get a real breathe. She claims it is a summer cold summer didn’t start until 3 mos after she started she is in denial as to what it really is and I won’t be surprised when they tell her it is COPD or even worse lung cancer but will it be enough for her to quit probably not. I am tired of hearing her cough it sometimes make my stomach real nauseous. After she comes back from smoking it subsides but about the time she is due for another one she starts hacking again. Horrible vicious cycle to live in… I work in a really small office so we have to deal with it but trust me we all make comments eventually she will take care of it or it will take care of her!

  60. Anonymous

    I have a coworker who has a persistent LOUD, and I mean deafening, cough that goes on all day unless she takes her allergy medicine. She always has a full bottle in her desk in case she forgets to take one at home but some days she just doesnt want to take it. She is very stubborn. I ask if she wants me to bring her tea or water and she refuses. She drinks no liquid all day despite the fact her doctor said it would really help. It has been driving me and the customers she talks to on the phone crazy. After asking her soo so many times to take her allergy medicine I just started being mean. When people refuse to acknowledge that they are ruining your day with their stubbornness (and refusal to follow their doctor’s orders) sometimes that is the way it needs to be done. I told her in great detail about how a customer described the noises she makes down the phone and how the customer said they refused to work with her and give her commision anymore because of the rudeness. I could tell that it made her feel ashamed but she has taken her allergy medicine everyday since and seems much healthier. Tough love.

  61. Anonymous

    I am in same situation, and she is sitting within 1 m from me, and I did talk to co-worker a few times in concern and ask her to see doctor ( no charge in Australia), she replied, she wants her body fight back so refuse to take medication. Even worse, she farted and assume it’s normal, I was so stress out and sometimes even hold back of vomiting of her unwanted gas. All I can say, SO SELFISH. and no manner, never concern of others around.

  62. Anonymous

    Until people realize that these chronic coughers are NOT physically sick, but are sick IN THE HEAD, there will be no progress in finding a way to stop them.

    Pleading to all the offensive chronic coughers in the world on a random blog on the internet is definitely not going to solve the problem.

    Just doing my part to guide the discussion! Cheers.

  63. Anonymous

    The person in my situation is a chronic heavy smoker. She is outside puffing away every hour. She knows she coughs all day long…we ALL know it. She’s been spoken to but still chain smokes. I don’t feel bad for her one damn bit. I feel bad for the rest of us that have to listen to her hacking up a lung for 8 hours a day. When she was approached about her cough by management she tried to blame it on daylight savings time! She’s in such denial its sickening.

  64. Anonymous

    Our co-employee was not just having chronic cough. For the past two years, she was diagnosed of having Pulmonary tuberculosis. She coughs the whole day without covering her mouth, and much worse, she would say she don’t care if we will have coughs too. the phlegm that she secretes was just under her table and she will throw it the next day. All of us are having cough and colds.

    1. EK

      This sounds like it could be a case to address with your Human Resources department. You may also want to contact your local department of health, since TB is contagious, for advice.

  65. Co-Worker's cough is back. Ugh!!

    Last week my co-worker in a cube next to me started coughing. Normally, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but when HE gets a cough it lasts for weeks!! Every year he gets a cough, and it lasts for 6 weeks, ALL DAY LONG!! I know it probably irritates me more, but I kept track this morning, and he is coughing every 1.5 minutes!! So distracting and annoying!! And it just ticks me off that he doesn’t suck on cough drops or drink something. I’ve offered him cough drops in the past, and have even told him it is distracting, and it doesn’t matter, he doesn’t care about anyone else. It started last week, and I thought about it all weekend, dreading to come to work Monday and have to be subjected to that all day. I feel fortunate that I don’t have to listen to it year long like some of you, but it is so annoying. Also, it makes things worse when I say something to other surrounding c0-workers, and they act like it doesn’t bother them. How can it not?? Any suggestions on approaching someone who is unapproachable?

  66. Allen

    I know how all of you guys feel. I have a co-worker that has a deep constant cough. Although there is a wall that separates us, it is still very annoying and frustrating to hear it. He is a heavy smoker and is a little on the heavy side himself. I think that putting information on his desk on COPD may give him a hint….

  67. CW

    Glad to know I’m not the only one who gets driven up the wall by this.

    I’m one of the only ones on my office who doesn’t cough constantly. Everyone else on my desk coughs and clears their throats constantly, even the people who (as far as I’m aware) don’t smoke. Unfortunately it’s an open-plan office, so it can get ridiculously noisy sometimes when everyone is making phlegmy noises at the same time.

    And it’s all year, even in the summer, gets even worse in the winter. Not quite sure why everyone is so ill all the time whereas I’m not, but I guess it’s just something that I have to put up with. If I get a cough, which is very rarely, probably not even once a year, it will only last a few days. If anyone in my office develops a cough it lasts for months!

    I’d probably have the same problem if I went to another office anyway, I think people are just very weakly and sickly these days. Maybe I should be thankful I actually have a half-decent immune system.

    I do wear headphones but it’s not enough to block out the noise unfortunately. I might try the white noise suggestion.

  68. MS A

    The sound is one thing, but what to say about anaerobic infection, which spreads all over the place? I have a colleague who coughs almost non stoping and does not bother to cover his mouth.
    I know that infection is most dangerous first week of cold, but it does not make you happy, as you are permanently under the fire of microbes. I believe that there should be some kind of legal protection against it? What if he has TB?

  69. Anonymous

    A chronic cougher in my office too: loud, sharp, startling sounds that go on all day and are annoying as hell. I wear noise-cancelling headphones with loud whitenoise playing and sometimes this guy’s coughing is so loud it still makes me jump involuntarily. He says it’s because of the dry air of the heat in the office, but with something as consistent and chronic as his cough there’s got to be way more to the story. I’ve never heard a cough like his before, and to my knowledge he does nothing to try and take care of it or lessen the noise (no cough drops, no nothing).

    I almost think it’s Tourette’s, like another poster here said. And even if it’s not Tourette’s it sounds exactly like it. Really hard to take, my nerves are shot. I wish I had the guts to say something to him but I’ve never been good at hiding my emotions when something is driving me crazy, like I wouldn’t know how to say it nice. His cough literally hurts my ears, I absolutely hate to have to try to work with that going on.

    1. Anon

      Oh, god, the excuses. They’re almost as annoying as the coughing! My chronic cougher blames absolutely everything; she’s convinced that the office is dirty and there’s something wrong with the air in here. She’s a rampant germophobe who covers her desk in antibiotic everything, will stay late to vacuum around her desk because the cleaning crew “doesn’t do a good enough job”, has set up all sorts of plants around her to “purify the air” (she flushes the water in her bamboo plant every day), and even has a little humidifier in her space. But she just keeps getting worse and worse. I once asked her when she brought in the humidifier, and she said “six months ago”. I said “isn’t that when your coughing started getting really bad? And it’s just gotten worse since?” She looked at me like I was insane. She’s been to her doctor multiple times and complains how they just keep telling her to try the same things over and over again, but when I suggested she go to another doctor and get a second opinion, she backtracked and said “oh, no, my doctor’s really good”.

  70. EK

    We have a chronic cougher in the office. That wouldn’t be a huge problem except that the cougher does not cover their mouth. No matter what. They might be standing in front of you, over you, over your lunch, and they will cough! How do you deal with that?

  71. Anonymous

    I have experienced this phenomenon as well — i.e., individuals coughing in my presence. What I find to help is Zen meditation so that I can remain focused.

  72. Cin

    So I’m sitting at my desk today, and my coworker points out to me that the resident cougher is at it again. She coughs literally ALL-DAY-LONG. It drives my coworker CRAZY and he never neglects to let me know when she’s on a particularly long coughing spell. I am usually really good at just tuning her out, but sometimes it’s harder than others. Especially when you are trying to concentrate on something and just need the quiet. I’ve been told by other people that she can’t help it, and this may be true, but isn’t there something she can do to quiet it or lessen the frequency? When I get really sick, I can be quite a cougher, and we’re not talking about a temporary cough- it’s all day every day. I counted once. It was at about 75 coughs an hour. I – AM – NOT – KIDDING. Ugh.

  73. Janna

    I can empathize, there’s a woman that I unfortunately sit near who does this ALL day long. Personally I think that she should take disability because everyone else should have their quality of life and work effected because she has an uncontrollable cough. It’s not fair to the rest of us who try to stay quiet and unoffensive. — She has a door and she rarely uses it just coughs with her mouth uncovered all day. I’ve completely lost sympathy for her, she’s just disgusting to me and I wish that she’d work from home.

  74. Really?

    I was born with the chronic lung disease. I cough once every 10 minutes, every day. Yes, it is one of those awful coughs that sounds like a bark/gag/loud sneeze. Should I not be able to work in a professional settings and have a successful career because I don’t want to annoy my coworkers? Would you rather have me wasting away at home, collecting disability? And, while we’re on the subject of pity parties (the whole theme of this posts comment section) do you know what it feels like to cough that much? It feels like someone is scraping at the inside of your lungs and throat with a melon baler. It makes your head hurt, your neck sore and your stomach ache. Believe me, nobody WANTS to cough like that.

    Shame on you all for complaining. Ignore it and do your job, and maybe just reflect a little on how grateful you are to be living with a healthy set of lungs.

    1. Anon

      If you see the comments, they are talking about people who cough WAY more frequently than once every 10 minutes. There’s a guy who’s been working here at my office for ages who’s an olllllllld smoker (and of pipes, at that). He coughs at about that frequency, and while it’s gross, it’s not particularly annoying. It’s the once-every-20-seconds ones that drive you insane.

      Honestly, I wish I knew how to just “ignore it”. That would be far preferable to the fatigue, headaches, anxiety, irritability, and other impacts to mental health and mood that I’ve experienced because of our chronic cougher. Oh, and stomach aches… I have a particularly sensitive stomach, and once the anxiety started, it affected that, too. Except for a couple weeks ago when our chronic cougher went on vacation (man, that was BLISS), I haven’t been able to eat a full meal in months. The bonus was that I lost about 25 pounds, but it wasn’t precisely the way I wanted to lose it. I’ve taken up meditation, tried turning the music all the way up on my headphones while at work, been to multiple doctors and tried all sorts of medication… nothing works. I’m considering finding a different job, that’s how bad it is. I miss my old social life, and my work performance is suffering substantially.

      Sorry if that was too much of a “pity party” for you, but truth is, it’s bad on both ends. I absolutely understand that it’s not your fault that you have a cough, but it’s also not my fault, and it’s not precisely fair that I should have my life impacted in such a way.

  75. Cat

    To Really:

    The person that I have complained about was not born with a disease. She is a very tall, extremely thin woman who chain smokes and doesn’t take her disgusting and chronic cough as a sign to quit smoking. If I knew she wasn’t a heavy smoker I would have sympathy for her and would be more tolerant.

  76. jenny

    I had a chronic cough for about 18 months and I knew I was bothering everyone in the office. I eventually went to a Pulmonologist and was diagnosed with asthma and reflux. With puffers and medication I am mostly cough free at work. This has been a godsend to me and my fellow employees. if you are the person with the chronic cough please please go to the doctor. It will take a while to be diagnosed but it is so worth it for all concerned in the long run. The best advise from my doctor while I was being diagnosed (it took 6 months) is to assure my fellow employees that the problem is being investigated and to ask them to be very patient.
    Jen from South Australia.

  77. Anonymous

    2 Things:
    1. I’m currently stuck in the same situation with a flatmate, not sure how to bring the subject up since we don’t talk, but its annoying as hell.

    2. As a very young person I had a horrible cough that appeared to be seasonal, no medication fixed it, and it was in fact so unpleasant I had several instances where I coughed until I threw up. Wierdly enough, lemon candy REALLY helped with it, and after long enough the cough just didn’t come back. – If you could politely suggest it, and it works, they may end up being quiet grateful to you.

    So…ya. Look for lemon candy, maybe buy them a bag or something.

  78. Lisa

    While it may annoy you, your co-worker may be dealing with something far bigger than you realize. As someone who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis, I have a chronic cough. It’s not something I chose, it’s not something I like ‘inflicting’ on anyone else, and believe me if I had the choice of living with it vs. just have to hear it, I’d trade any day of the week. Perhaps practicing some compassion and thinking that there may be something bigger than your ego going on might help.

    1. Anon

      Speaking of ego.

      It’s true that we don’t know what the cougher is going through and what’s happening in their life. The reverse is also true, though. The person dealing with listening to the coughing may also have something far bigger than you realize: They could be struggling with high levels of stress, fatigue, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc., that make it especially difficult to handle someone going “KOUGHK!” in their ear every 20 seconds for 8-9 hours a day months on end when all they’re trying to do is concentrate on their work.
      Or maybe the Chinese coughing torture is what is actually CAUSING their stress, fatigue, depression, anxiety, or eating disorder.

      Perhaps practicing some compassion and realizing that there may be something more going on than just merely being annoyed might help.

  79. Kitten

    Lisa,
    I would have compassion in my situation if the person coughing every 2 seconds wasn’t a chain smoker. She is damaging her lungs herself and all of us having to listen to it. I feel bad that you have CF and would never hold that against this woman if she also had CF but instead she chooses to poison herself.

  80. Kerfuffle

    In my case, it’s my boss who coughs and snorts all year-round, all day long. Worse in the winter. He claims it’s due to allergies. I’m at the reception desk and his office is on the same floor with a shared wall, so neither of us can move. No HR dept.- we’re a small company of about 10 people. I can even hear him coughing outside as he walks back up the street from taking his lunch. It drives me CRAZY! We noticed that when his wife is around suddenly he can control it.

    1. Kerfuffle

      Also somehow he never needs to cough or clear his throat or snort back mucus when he’s on a long phone conversation.

  81. Kitten

    I truly would not care if someone had a chronic cough if it was for a medical reason. In my situation, the cougher is a very very heavy smoker and doesn’t seem to care about her health or the health of the people around her. She’s extremely thin too. Her coughing has been brought to her attention but she doesn’t seem phased by the fact that people point it out. If you cough because of a medical reason, I feel awful for you but if you bring it on yourself and do nothing about it then I feel zero sympathy.

  82. pepelepeu

    Since I’m finding no solutions, I might post a couple of ideas:

    1- to buy an expensive handkerchief so this person covers the mouth with it and it absorbs part of the noise.

    2- (I think someone mentioned this actually) Noise-cancellation earphones. At this point I wouldn’t mind spending $1000 on one. I can’t stand the coughing guy anymore!!!!

  83. Giorgio

    I have the same issue with my co worker, who sits opposite. He coughs all day – but never speaks a word, otherwise, so it’s difficult to speak to him about it because it would be the “only” thing we talk about. What is more concerning (and annoying) than the noise every minute, all day, is the fact that he doesn’t know he should put his hand over his mouth. It freaks my other colleague out and it causes tension in a small office. Honestly, why can’t these people stay at home if they are sick. I kind of wish he was sick so he wound stay away!

  84. ANNOYED and NOW SICK

    I too am going through the same thing, however, this cough that she came into work with on Tuesday, is because now she is sick so its mixed with a smokers cough and her cold, but the problem is that now I got sick from her spreading her germs, she is taking halls and buckleys like its going out of style but the issue is that she should go to the doctor if the over the counter stuff is not working. She has been coughing for two months and I know its her smoking that is the issue but this cough that she has now is just annoying and has made me sick because she has some sort of who know bronchi infection or something that now has been spread in the office, the problem is that we are all in the open and we cannot avoid it……now I am sick and miserable because she decides to share her sickness with everyone in the office…!

    I think this should be classified as a health and safety matter this is how epidemics happen!!!!!!!!!

    Happy Friday everyone

  85. ANNOYED and NOW SICK

    Her cough just keeps getting worse and worse I have no sympathy for her, I slam my mouse every time she coughs she is exhausting all of her over the counter resources why the F**K won’t she go to the doctors, I am really starting to get at my whit’s end……I just want to scream….and its not just her there is someone else in the office also coughing up a storm…….don’t these people have any clue that since the cough has been an annoyance I feel like they are being oblivious to the matter. There is only so much one person can do to make it obvious that they are annoyed, i.e. Moving from their desk to sit in a lawyers office, and I am not the only person who has done this.

  86. Sarah

    What ridiculous advice!!! You’re stuck with it??! Just have a quiet word with her and tell her not only is it driving you mad, but it’s putting your health at risk! This PC world we live in has made it too hard to speak our minds!! Just tell her – why should you have to have your head melted? Take it from someone who has been through this – I just politely asked my co-worker to sit elsewhere and told him the cough was drving my nuts. He’s moved and we’re a lot happier because I’m not snapping at him and I can work in peace!

    1. ANNOYED and NOW SICK

      Hi Sarah,

      There is nowhere else unfortunately for her to sit, we are at our capacity….otherwise I would have taken this road…..to this day, March 17, 2014 she is still hacking like her lungs are going to come out….! If I did speak my mind it would not be pretty….! I would really speak my mind and tell her that she is driving me fucking nuts and I want to smash her head against a wall that’s how bad its been. We have now been given an air purifier to create white noise but it will not block out her annoying cough.!

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