Sniffling And Snorting

by admin on July 14, 2014

I’m utterly baffled by the experience I had this morning.

I have sinus issues that manifest mostly in the winter and spring. They can cause me to sniffle – there is not much I can do, it’s not loud, but I sound congested when I breathe, like I have a stuffed nose. Blowing my nose makes little to no difference – the problem is higher up. Medication provides temporary relief.

I was on the train this morning in an empty carriage when a well-dressed, senior citizen got on and sat opposite me. I paid little attention – I was quickly re-reading an article I had to submit that morning on my phone.

A few minutes after we left the station, she piped up. “Excuse me!” she said brightly, in a friendly, tone. “Do you have a tissue?”  I always carry tissues and wipes, so in an equally bright, friendly tone, I said “Why yes, I do!” and started to reach into my bag to grab them, thinking she needed to borrow one.

“Good,” she replied. “Then I won’t have to listen to you sniffle the whole way”.

I slowly placed my bag back on the seat, unsure what to say. I wasn’t making huge sniffling sounds, I was literally just breathing.  She’d really set me up for humiliation.

“It’s a sinus issue,” I told her sternly. “Blowing my nose makes no difference. I thought you wanted to borrow a tissue”.

And with that, I went back to my article, fuming for the next two stops, when I got off.

As I disembarked, she quipped, “Have a nice day!”

I almost turned to scream, “Bugger off you old busy body!” but I kept mum.

What should I have said? It was so odd! 0710-14

I normally have an iron cast stomach but the sound of snot in a nose is enough to make me gag.   And if I hear it at a restaurant or dining table, the chances I may retch go up considerably.   I suspect you have no idea just how loud your sniffling actually is. If strangers are willing to approach you about it, it seems to me it is more noticeable than your nose merely being congested.  “Sniffling” is the sound of nasal bodily fluids we are trying to either evacuate from our nose or sniffling to keep it from dribbling out onto the upper lip…it is the sound of one’s nose dripping.     Whether it is due to seasonal allergies or a cold virus or a bacterial sinus infection, the sound is the same for the hearer who cannot distinguish which is the source and therefore the etiquette must be the same for all possible scenarios.   You cover your nose, you wipe your nose, you take whatever actions you can to mitigate the sound of your body leaking so the general public does not see it or hear it.

Judith Martin aka Miss Manners, in her book, “Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (Freshly Updated)”, page 295, advocates that people carry handkerchiefs, preferably cloth, and to hold it in one’s hand even if no longer needed as indicative of a “good faith” effort to address the problem of sneezing and sniffling.

{ 155 comments… read them below or add one }

Jays July 14, 2014 at 4:51 pm

” If the only action the OP can take to mitigate this is staying at home, which sounds like it’s the case, I think that on this point it’s better that the general public suffer.”

^This. Utterly disagree with admin.

A good friend has a similar issue. He can’t do anything about it. Trust me, he’s tried. I was irritated as heck that long-ago day when I first started working with him and heard him sniffling and sniffing constantly. But I was never rude enough to say anything (I might have offered him a tissue, but I swear I did it politely.) Eventually it just became background noise. And eventually we became good enough friends that he told me about the medical issue. (It wasn’t constant, but when it flared up, it could go for days.)

Is he supposed to carry around a tissue all day just as a sign he’s aware of the noise? Trust me, he was. But he tried not to call attention to it, which helped it become background noise faster.

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admin July 15, 2014 at 7:55 am

“This” is not something I wrote. Quote accurately, please.

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SingActDance July 15, 2014 at 8:10 am

With all due respect, using the word “this” with an arrow indicating the above post is a way of saying you agree with what is written above.

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cat July 14, 2014 at 6:41 pm

I was taking an accounting exam that was a required course in the field I was entering. I am terrible with numbers and understanding mathematical concepts. The exam was doing the complete books for a list of 100 transactions. My fellow student at the next table had developed a nervous tic – clearing her throat every 30 seconds. Normally anything like that doesn’t bother me in the least, but because it was so quiet in the exam room, and I was trying to use all the power of my brain, the distraction was killing me. Just when I had figured out what the answer was, she cleared her throat again, and the answer was gone. I was almost in tears. Finally, she finished her exam and was allowed to leave to room and I could concentrate again and I finished the test. I so wanted to yell at her but my issues with concentrating wasn’t her problem. After that I just carry those cheap disposable earplugs and use them when I can’t focus. It works really well.

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Shalamar July 15, 2014 at 10:49 am

Cat, I used to work with a chronic throat-clearer. What killed me was when I asked him (politely) if he could please stop, and he said incredulously “That BOTHERS you?”, as though it was the weirdest thing he’d ever heard.

I have misophonia, and therefore some sounds that don’t affect other people bother the heck out of me. This was constant, though. He’d gotten so used to it, he didn’t even realize he was doing it anymore. Hence the incredulity.

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Nicole July 14, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Chronic sinus problems often result in ear infections as well. There’s a good chance OP’s hearing is muffled and the sniffling is actually a lot louder than she thinks it is.

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K July 14, 2014 at 8:23 pm

I don’t blame the woman for wanting OP to stop sniffling if at all possible — especially because most of the time, people sniffle either because they don’t have tissues or because they don’t realize how loudly they’re sniffling. I see this first-hand when I’m teaching: during upper respiratory season, often as much as three-quarters of my class will sit happily sniffling away. It makes silent activities like quiz-taking unbearable! I’ve given up on tact, and directly hand my students the tissue box now and, if they’re too shy to blow their noses, ask them to please do so in the restroom and then return to class. I figure they’re young enough that they can take it as a helpful life lesson given administered kind (but firm!) intentions.

That said, the woman was, of course, horribly rude in the way she went about her goal — her sarcasm was completely unnecessary, and as soon as the OP said that blowing her nose wouldn’t help, it would have been nice if the woman had apologized for her tone/phrasing. (I’m not sure that “Have a nice day!” was necessarily sarcastic, but if that’s the tone that the OP read, then I’ll give the benefit of the doubt. Although I did immediately wonder whether the woman meant it as an olive branch because she felt bad about disrupting, but the OP interpreted it as a “quip” because of the negative feelings from the earlier exchange.)

It’s unfortunate for the OP that there was no way she could control her sniffling. It’s unfortunate for everyone else on the bus that they had to listen to the sniffling. Those things can’t be helped (though I always travel with headphones for precisely these situations), but the woman’s curtness certainly could have been avoided.

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Angel July 14, 2014 at 8:27 pm

If I was the woman sitting across from the OP I never would have said anything. She was very rude. My husband has asthma and breathes very loudly especially during allergy season. To have a total stranger “call you out” on a medical condition that really can’t be helped–pretty awful. If the noise bothered her that much she should have moved seats.

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RW July 14, 2014 at 8:47 pm

This person came and sat across from the OP in an empty compartment. Why didn’t she just move?

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Killswitch July 14, 2014 at 9:09 pm

I’m with the admin. Few sounds bother me more than those involving mucous or phlegm. I wouldn’t have said anything if I just had to endure it for 10-20 minutes on public transport, but if it was an office-mate doing it all day… yes, I would say something. I agree that many people aren’t aware of how bothersome that noise is. I even disgust myself when I get a head cold.

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twik July 15, 2014 at 8:53 am

Again, maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. But what are they going to do about it? Very few people go around sniffing or coughing because they enjoy it, or as one other poster put it, they’re “too lazy” to do anything about it. There is absolutely nothing to be done. All the nose-blowing in the world will not help swollen nasal tissues or post-nasal drip, and it’s magical thinking to believe that it will.

It would be nice if people with physical disabilities could avoid annoying others on public transportation. It would be even to get rid of the symptoms, because you, the listeners are probably not nearly as annoyed as the sufferers are themselves. But at the very least, they should not have to “show good faith” by waving around handkerchiefs, or asthma inhalers, to show they’re doing the best they can, honest. Would people who walk slowly because of arthritis have to pull out their medications and show them to the travelling public? How about people with conditions like Tourette’s?

The idea that people sit there sniffling or coughing because they just want to annoy you rather than because they’re sick is quite baffling to me.

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Jo July 17, 2014 at 7:44 am

@twik – As a person who actually IS physically disabled, I have to say that having sinus problems is hardly in the same category. It’s truly offensive to even suggest it.

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Tracy W July 21, 2014 at 9:47 am

The word “disabled” is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of conditions, including invisible disabilities. My dyspraxia is nothing at all like being in a wheelchair, but both situations are included under the term “disabled”. There’s nothing offensive in calling some condition a disability (barring some serious context, in the way that in some situations “oh how pretty” can be a deadly insult).

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OP July 14, 2014 at 9:22 pm

OP here! I admit it could be louder than I think – though I asked my co-workers to be brutal and tell me if they notice it, and they honestly said they had not. The only way to stop the sound is to breathe through my mouth – which I did for the rest of the journey.

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Ange July 14, 2014 at 11:17 pm

Timely story since I was just on a four hour flight with a woman who sniffed very loudly and wetly the whole time. By the end every nerve ending I had was jangling while she contentedly enjoyed her noise cancelling headphones, probably completely unaware how she sounded. I myself suffer badly with allergies and sinus infections etc so I understand chronic dripping (and that’s why I didn’t approach her about it) but I agree with admin, if she’d at least produced a tissue at some point it would have gone a long way towards making her look less like a selfish boor.

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Sandy Hostetler July 22, 2014 at 12:53 pm

I’d suggest your own noise-canceling headphones on a 4-hour flight. The chances that something is going to bother you (generic you) on a flight are probably pretty high, given the state of air travel these days.

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AngePange July 15, 2014 at 6:00 am

I wonder if there hasn’t been a misunderstanding about the particular noise that the OP makes? I have heard that kind of “sniffing” breathing that is not actually sniffing and it vastly difference to a snorting, hocking sound (I am privileged enough to work with some real class-acts that perform that particular act as part of their daily routine and, trust me, is vastly different.) I am quite badly asthmatic and, as a result, my breathing sometimes sounds heavy and labored, or like I am “sighing” (when I actually need more oxygen so I don’t pass out). I once had a colleague who reported me to HR for sighing at her, when I was just quietly sitting at my desk but suddenly needed to take in a deep breath. One of the triggers is stress, so often I am so busy worrying about other things that I don’t even know I have “sighed”. I respectfully disagree with admin that the OP should carry a tissue around to announce her “disability”. That would be like asking me to hang my asthma pump around my neck – and trust me, I would STILL upset someone. Some people see “advertising” your disability or illness as attention seeking in and of itself, so really, you can’t win. “Oh, you’re clutching a tissue, you must be sick, Eeeuw gross, rather stay at home”. I think the lady’s approach to OP was incredibly passive aggressive, sarcastic and snarky – really unnecessary.

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Jo July 17, 2014 at 7:57 am

As a person who actually has a physical disability, I have to chime in and say that having sinus problems is NOT qualifying! She can very easily take some medication to alleviate her symptoms, though it seems that she is not, because as she says, it only provides “temporary relief.” If OTC meds aren’t doing it, she needs to seek a doctor and prescription meds. But this is something that can undoubtedly be alleviated, if not entirely treated.

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pdolly July 18, 2014 at 10:50 am

As someone who is disabled and has this problem I have to say that even prescription mess don’t always work. They’re not a magic wand. They work for a little while then you have to wait ages sniffing untill you can take another dose.

The only thing that works for mine is a steroid nasal spray. Which I would have to take several times a day every day of the year forever. Which is painful, bloody and not really recommended as a permanent solution. Sorry if that doesn’t fit into the “disabilities” box for you but it’s not up to you, you don’t own the word.

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Ergala July 19, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Interested assumption Jo. Some of us with invisible disabilities suffer just as much as those with visible ones. To judge someone’s disability and how miserable it makes them based on your own experience is uncalled for. It reminds me of people who have to one up someone who is ill or injured..”Oh your broke your hand? I broke my whole arm a few years ago and I STILL managed to do XYZ…”. Everyone is different. I am classified as disabled though if you looked at me you’d have no idea I am. It doesn’t mean I am any less disabled than the person in a wheelchair or using crutches.

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Ivy July 22, 2014 at 11:49 pm

I know exactly what you mean with the sighing. I have asthma as well and “sigh” randomly, though in actuality I’m just struggling for a particularly deep breath. Some people have mistaken my breaths for annoyed sighs and taken offense over it. Easy enough to fix when they ask about it, not so much when they decide to be offended and not ask about it, considering I don’t ways notice when I do it and I don’t explain to everyone I meet my asthma and breathing habits. Bummer.

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FunkyMunky July 15, 2014 at 6:42 am

I’m surprised how many posters think the commenting woman was ‘trying to be nice’. She certainly wasn’t. She set up the OP with an innocent-sounding question, so that she could make a snarky, ‘clever’ response; unfortunately OP gave her the exact response she needed. She was probably quite proud of herself.

I think the OP’s response was fine. I probably would have been much more curt.

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Abby July 15, 2014 at 1:08 pm

I know, I almost wondered if my grandma was the older lady in question. She would have made that kind of comment, then proudly gloated about her cleverness to anyone who would listen.

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Yvaine July 16, 2014 at 9:26 am

Yes! It’s like asking “Who sings this?” when you hear someone singing, and when they reply with the artist’s name, retorting “Well, maybe you should let them.” It’s a cutesy passive-aggressive way to say “Your singing is bad.” This is the same kind of thing.

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Shoegal July 15, 2014 at 7:11 am

Something always annoys somebody else. I wouldn’t want to listen to the sniffling sounds either but I do think the OP has a right to sniffle. As another posted noted, take into account that a great many people may be dealing with much larger issues that you are aware of. Although the sniffling is annoying to some, the sufferer of the allergies or nasal problem has a much bigger problem.

I also suffer from misophonia to a degree. I quite literally can not handle anyone chewing gum around me even when it is not over the top. I can’t look at it, I can’t stand the snapping and popping sounds or even look at the movement of the jaw as people chew. Yeah, I immediately become angry and annoyed. Is it the gum chewer’s fault, should they discontinue chewing gum out in public because of me? Should I force them to stop or say something nasty to them (believe me, I want to)? I am of the mindset that it isn’t their problem. I can’t infringe upon the rights of other people in society to conform to what I want. I just remove myself from the situation. I think the woman should have just removed herself. The OP said nothing rude or mean and wasn’t being disgusting about the sniffling – she literally couldn’t help it. I think she handled it perfectly.

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twik July 15, 2014 at 8:54 am

It’s not a completely accurate analogy, because the gum-chewer *can* stop if they want. The person with respiratory illness cannot.

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Huh July 15, 2014 at 9:51 am

I think you bring up a good point, Shoegal, with this: “Should I force them to stop or say something nasty to them (believe me, I want to)? I am of the mindset that it isn’t their problem.” Regardless if the OP can help her sniffling or not, I think the lady on the train was still rude to say something about it, especially the way she did – “Then I won’t have to listen to you sniffle the whole way.”

Shoegal doesn’t like the sound/sight of people chewing/popping gum. I know someone who HATES pen clickers. Personally, I don’t like the sight/vibrations picked up by leg bouncers, people who constantly bounce one leg. Visually it distracts me, sometimes if I’m sitting on the same furniture as them, it the movement vibrates the whole thing just slightly, which is enough to annoy. (And honestly, an acquaintance that I cannot stand does it, so I associate that tic with them.) And yes, I know that restless leg syndrome is a thing. Its still something that annoys me. But like Shoegal, I consider that a me problem, I don’t get to tell my coworker that’s a leg bouncer to knock it off NOW.

Or, if everyone agrees that it’s all right to tell a stranger that something they can’t help doing or aren’t aware they are doing (like sniffles or a nervous tic) is annoying/nauseating/distracting and they need to stop it, let me know soon. My coworker will be here any minute. ;)

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Mary July 15, 2014 at 10:53 am

I had no idea there was such a disorder until I heard Kelly Ripa describe it on tv one day. Immediately I knew I had it. Anyone chewing anything even with their mouth closed bothers me. The rattling of keys will drive me up the wall.

However, I sometimes think you need to blame the offender when it comes to gum chewing. Anyone who snaps or cracks their gum deserves to be locked away and throw away the key! :)

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CW July 15, 2014 at 12:21 pm

I agree. Just because I can’t tolerate a sound doesn’t mean it’s the sound makers job to make me more comfortable. I was at the social security office changing my name and there was a man sitting near me who was wheezing rather loudly. Instead of pointing it out to him, I asked my husband if we could move down a few seats. Problem solved.

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Library Diva July 15, 2014 at 9:24 am

While everyone has an obligation to society to be as inoffensive as possible when out in public, people also need to realize that going out in public exposes them to things they may not allow in their living rooms. There will often be a screaming child, a couple arguing, someone who smells, or in this case, a sniffling person. It doesn’t give you the right to be horrible to them, as this woman was to the OP. The woman doesn’t know what-all OP has going on in her life. OP could have been on her way to see a doctor about this very issue. OP could have been coping with a lot of personal trauma and this cruel remark from a stranger could have sent her over the edge. The nicer thing to do, if this woman absolutely felt she had to say something, would have been to offer OP a tissue.

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Jo July 17, 2014 at 7:59 am

But things like screaming children or couples arguing are one-time, unexpected things that just happen to occur time to time. It’s not exactly the same as a chronic issue, and one that the OP fully knows and expects to happen.

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Daphne July 15, 2014 at 1:33 pm

I agree with admin 100% and would like to add that if someone has an uncontrollable sniffling problem, PLEASE stay out of restaurants in which tables are seated by a host/ess. If you know you have this nauseating condition–please limit yourself to venues in which other patrons are free to move around without causing undue problems for staff.

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Stacey Frith-Smith July 15, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Well, really. Why should they limit themselves for your possible benefit? Are they to take a survey of the establishment before being seated so that they can avoid offending anyone? For a sniffle? Granted, sounds affect some a great deal more than others. But I don’t think I could disagree more. The solution you propose smacks of “make certain that you don’t spoil my nice outing with your offensive self”.

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Daphne July 15, 2014 at 10:24 pm

I feel that if an individual KNOWS s/he has an uncontrollable sniffling problem they really should try to keep that in mind around people who are trying to enjoy a meal. I personally would not want to nauseate others in a restaurant setting and I would hope others would do the same for me.

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Stacey Frith-Smith July 15, 2014 at 11:12 pm

This is a case of the conditions of others falling into more than one category. People who fail to manage a condition that is volitional are one type of issue. Drunk, disorderly, aggressive, high, profane, loud, commenting on other patrons and staff, blocking doorways or through ways, hogging facilities meant to be shared, cutting in line- these are instances where people have failed to practice a reasonable level of restraint. However, people with visible disfigurements, speech impediments, tics such as Tourette’s, palsies, mobility impairment, developmental delays, asthma, COPD….well, they get to go out too. In such cases, the matter is involuntary (or at least partially involuntary) and, metaphorically speaking, we make room at the table without complaint.

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Yvaine July 16, 2014 at 9:27 am

+1

Daphne July 16, 2014 at 1:03 pm

No it’s not. It’s about sniffling loudly, uncontrollably in public. And I’ve stated my opinion, I’m really not going to change my mind. It’s obvious you don’t agree with me and that’s OK. As I’m sure most loud snifflers are going to do what they will anyway. :-)

Ergala July 19, 2014 at 1:11 pm

I have Tourette’s and I have a vocal tic. If someone approached me and said I shouldn’t eat anywhere nice because my tic annoyed them….well let’s just say they would be opening up a huge huge can of worms. I didn’t CHOOSE this, there is no help for it, there is no medication for it. And when you shove it in my face it makes it even worse due to anxiety. As a kid I was constantly told to stop my head tic or to just spit it out when one of my vocal tics started up. That really didn’t help me at all. I am well aware of the looks I get when it starts but in all honesty it’s not my problem if YOU cannot tolerate it. I have zero control over it and I refuse to lower myself to eating at fast food places simply because I may be deemed lower standard to dine in a nicer place merely because of a disorder.

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Eva July 16, 2014 at 3:02 am

Sorry no.

I am a chronic sniffler, although that has gotten better after an operation. Nobody in several decades of sniffling ever accused me to cause nausea. As a matter of fact, I frequent restaurants on a regular basis and nobody ever complained or moved to another table or even shot me an annoyed look.

That sounds more like being rather sensitive, than a typical reaction to sniffles. Mind you, I am speaking of your run of the mill-sniffles, not of loud an regulr horking. Yuck. THAT I would protest too.

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Daphne July 16, 2014 at 1:09 pm

But if no one ever complained to you, it’s not the same thing at all. The OP’s sniffling issue is loud enough (horking, great word btw) that a stranger actually complained. So that’s the whole crux of the matter if you ask me.

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Stacey Frith-Smith July 16, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Your point about a matter of degree is well taken. And I also love “horking”. Awesome word.

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Jo July 17, 2014 at 7:53 am

Wait…the OP doesn’t want to use medication because it’s “temporary relief”? Sorry, but that’s not an excuse. They do have 12-hour pills, or if needed, get a prescription which is stronger. There ARE ways to deal with this, but the OP is acting like it’s a problem totally out of her hands. It’s not.

Also, I agree with those who said that if a stranger is approaching her about it, it would appear that her sniffling isn’t nearly as quiet as she thinks it is. Perhaps her ears are also congested and she isn’t hearing it as loudly as it truly is, or perhaps she’s gotten really accustomed to hearing it all the time herself. In either event, this IS a very easily solvable problem.

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pdolly July 18, 2014 at 11:00 am

Not everyone can take those meds. They can cause bad reactions with other meds you are taking. I don’t know where you got the idea that it is an easily solved problem but you are breathtakingly wrong.

The few congestion/allergy tabs I am able to take are the drowsy ones, for example. So I can’t take them if I want to leave the house.

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Enna July 19, 2014 at 6:55 am

My mum had sinus problems and she tried sprays and medication: she had to have an operation in the end. This was under general anasethetic and she was in hosptial for two nights.

It is unfair to critise someone for a medical condition. It was an empty train carraige if it was bothering the woman that badly why not move? The OP said it was done to humilate her – why sit so close?

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