Engineering Against Coughing and Sneezing

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Research about mechanisms to reduce a particular kind of noise
compiled by Nan Swift, Improbable Research staff

Engineers dare to take on tasks that nature may have neglected. Here are four attempts to solve the noise-related problems arising from human sneezes or coughs.

Apisa’s Simple Sneeze Catcher
“Sneeze Catching Method and Apparatus,” US patent 8910312, issued to Joseph Apisa, December 16, 2014. Apisa specifies:

An apparatus for catching bodily fluids ejected during a sneeze or cough, said apparatus comprising: a sleeve having a first open end... a closure being mounted on said sleeve and releasably retaining said frame in said closed position; a pad being removably positioned in said receiving space, said pad having anti-bacterial properties; and wherein said sleeve is configured to be worn on an arm of a person such that the person may sneeze or cough into said pad and that said pad captures and destroys bacteria exhaled by the person.

Copelands’ Cough Muffler
“Cough Muffler,” US patent 6085864, issued to Derrick Copeland, Glen Copeland, and Lucian Copeland, July 11, 2000. The three Copelands explain:

A cough muffler for muffling the vocal sounds of a human. The muffler is especially designed for deadening or silencing vocal sounds, particularly coughing, of hunters and the like to avoid possible frightening away of the game being hunted. The cough muffler generally comprises four components, namely: a mouthpiece, a cup-shaped casing which defines a cavity, a first absorbent material, and a second absorbent material.... [One] object of the present invention to provide a device of simple construction for muffling or deadening involuntary coughs of outdoor persons to prevent the frightening away of animals.

The Figone Sound Muffler for Covering the Mouth
“Sound Muffler for Covering the Mouth,” US patent 4834212, issued to Moira J. Figone and Frank M. Figone, May 30, 1989. The Figones’ invention is general purpose, and can, among its minor uses, be applied to the noise of coughing or sneezing:

Many of us become so frustrated by some task that we are undertaking that we would like to “scream”. Others of us get angry at another person, happening, event, or the like, so mad that we would like to vent our anger by screaming or yelling. We generally suppress the desire because we would look foolish and also disturb others.

There is a need in our complex society for a device which can be placed over the mouth and into which a person may yell or scream but which muffles the sound so others are not disturbed. Such a device would even be more useful if it provided an indication of the intensity of the sound thereby providing feedback to the user....

[There also] is provided a means for measuring the intensity of the sound and providing a visual indication of the intensity thereby giving the user feedback.... FIG. 6 is a schematic diagram showing a sound measuring display circuit for use in connection with the present invention.

Detail from Figone and Figone’s patent for a “Sound Muffler for Covering the Mouth.”

The McBrearty Cough/Sneeze Noise Reducer
“Apparatus for Reducing the Noise of Coughs and Sneezes,” US patent 5413094, issued to Edward McBrearty, May 9, 1995. McBrearty explains the need for his invention:

During attendance at symphonic orchestra concerts it has been known to use throat lozenges to lessen the need for coughing. Even the unwrapping of a throat lozenge can cause unwanted noise from the rustling of the cellophane wrapper which can alert the quarry during the hunt or can annoy the nearby audience members It often seems that if an attempt is made to stifle the cough or sneeze, it just becomes louder when it inevitably erupts.

McBrearty tells how his invention solves problems that a particular previous invention did not:

U.S. Pat. No 4,834,212 to Figone et al discloses a sound muffler for covering the mouth while the user intentionally screams. Figone et al includes a microphone for receiving unabsorbed sound and measuring it However, the Figone et al patent suffers from the disadvantage that it is not convenient to transport for use as occasionally required and further it requires some kind of electrical power to operate.

Detail from McBrearty’s patent for an “Apparatus for Reducing the Noise of Coughs and Sneezes.”

The Ellington/Rush Cough Silencer Device
“Cough Silencer Device,” US patent 6401860, issued to R. Craig Ellington, Stephen D. Ellington, and Rhett P. Rush, June 11, 2002. Ellington, Ellington, and Rush remark:

The present invention is completely different than these patents [by Figone, McBrearty, et al.] in that it consists of a cough silencer device. The invention concerns a device  for use by hunters in the woods so that if the hunter has to cough while hunting, a portion of the device would be put to the hunter’s mouth and, upon coughing, the cough noise would be silenced by the device. The device comprises three main parts, a body, an internal muffling baffling system and an end cap. There is an alternative embodiment [shown in Figure 4], being an elongate tube and mouthpiece attached thereto.


This article is republished with permission from the January-February 2017 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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