The size distribution of droplets in the exhaled breath of healthy human subjects

J Aerosol Med. 1997 Summer;10(2):105-16. doi: 10.1089/jam.1997.10.105.


Droplets carried in exhaled breath may carry microorganisms capable of transmitting disease over both short and long distances. The size distribution of such droplets will influence the type of organisms that may be carried as well as strategies for controlling airborne infection. The aim of this study was to characterize the size distribution of droplets exhaled by healthy individuals. Exhaled droplets from human subjects performing four respiratory actions (mouth breathing, nose breathing, coughing, talking) were measured by both an optical particle counter (OPC) and an analytical transmission electron microscope (AEM). The OPC indicated a preponderance of particles less than 1 mu, although larger particles were also found. Measurements with the AEM confirmed the existence of larger sized droplets in the exhaled breath. In general, coughing produced the largest droplet concentrations and nose breathing the least, although considerable intersubject variability was observed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aerosols
  • Breath Tests*
  • Cough
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Mouth Breathing
  • Particle Size
  • Speech


  • Aerosols