Covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough is more than just a polite move.

According to new research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, droplets from coughs and sneezes can travel up to 200 times farther than previously thought, Medical News Today reported.

Researchers studied high-speed imaging of coughs and sneezes, in addition to laboratory simulations and mathematical modeling to analyze the fluid mechanisms for coughs and sneezes. They observed that each droplet is accompanied by “gas clouds” that allow the droplets to travel greater distances.

In the past, research suggested that larger drops go farther than smaller ones because of extra force. However, because of the gas clouds, researchers now understand that, in fact, small drops are carried a bigger distance while larger drops fall out of the cloud.

The analysis, published in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics, found that droplets traveled five to 200 times farther than past estimates, depending on size. The smallest measured droplets, less than 50 micrometers in size, can stay airborne long enough to enter ceiling ventilation units.

Researchers shared a video showing how the gas cloud carries droplets as a person sneezes:
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The next step for the MIT team is studying “fluid breakup,” when pathogen-containing droplets are formed, allowing infection transmission.

In the meantime, remember: Keep tissues— or your sleeves— handy.

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