Why Do Doctors Say "Turn Your Head and Cough"?

The phrase "turn your head and cough" has been used in numerous comedy sketches to illustrate the discomfort of a patient undressing in a doctor's office.
A cough test is used to detect hernias and other testicular problems.
Men are asked to "turn their head and cough" during an exam to check for hernias.
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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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Doctors generally say “turn your head and cough” during a hernia exam. They are generally required to put their fingers near the top of the testicles on a male patient and instruct him to cough because if a hernia is present it can be felt bulging from the lower abdomen. Men may be asked to turn their heads so that the cough is directed away from the doctor, especially if they are sick with a communicable disease.

Hernia tests may be done as part of a routine physical or if a man believes he may have a hernia due to severe pain or other symptoms. A hernia is a condition in which part of the intestines begin bulging out of the abdominal cavity through susceptible areas. These areas include the belly button in men and women, and the area where the testicles meet the body in men. When a man is told to “turn your head and cough” it is generally so that the action of coughing will make any potential hernia easier to detect.

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Some doctors may not use this phrase and instead instruct patients to cover their mouths or simply to cough. Covering the mouth is often a safer alternative because germs may still become airborne and infect other individuals, even if the patient’s head is turned away from any other people in the room. Patients who have a known illness, such as the common cold or influenza, should always cover their mouths while coughing.

It also been said that doctors instruct patients to “turn your head and cough” in order to put the spine in a better position for checking for hernia or to somehow make a hernia easier to feel. Most physicians do not support this theory, although turning one's head does not do any harm if it makes either the patient or doctor feel better to do so. In the majority of cases, the act of coughing itself is enough to indicate a hernia.

The phrase “turn your head and cough” is well known, even among those who have never heard it spoken by their own doctors. It has been used in a variety of comedy sketches, stories, and other media outlets to illustrate the discomfort associated with becoming unclothed in a doctor’s office during the exam. It has also been used in movies during comic scenes.

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anon210496
Post 3

Speaking from a male point of view, I have more fear of the digital rectal exam associated with the prostate than the "turn your head and cough" hernia exam. But I will say that the hernia exam can be pretty uncomfortable, too. That area above the testicles is not a place most people need or want to touch, so when a doctor presses his fingers up there, it feels really odd. I've also experienced a pain similar to a light blow to the testicles themselves.

I'm glad there is a simple test for doctors to determine if I have a hernia, but it does feel a little more invasive than a person might expect. It reminds me of the muscle pain you might experience if you jump from a high step and don't land exactly right.

geronimo8
Post 2

I've always heard men say how much they dread the day when a doctor might say this to them. Really, it doesn't sound all that bad to me.

But I guess as a woman who's given birth multiple times, it's easy to get past the embarrassment. If I were a man put in that kind of situation, I'm sure my opinion would be a bit different.

rosoph
Post 1

I've heard this saying many times, but I really thought that the turning of the head was for medical reasons other than to prevent the spread of germs. It's kind of funny to find out that's all it's for.

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