Go to work or call in sick?
Sore throat, runny nose, high fever-which of these indicate you’re sick enough to stay home?
Statistics Canada reports that from 2008 to 2009, Canadians took a national average of seven sick days, with Quebec having the highest average (nine days) and Alberta the lowest (six days). Ontarians average six to seven sick days per year.
These guidelines should help you feel a little less guilty about staying home. But if you’re feeling really sick, be sure to make an appointment to see your doctor.
Symptom: Runny nose
“A runny nose could be a symptom of many things, including allergies,” says Dr. Vivien Brown, a Toronto-based family physician and vice-president of medical affairs at Medisys Health Group. A runny nose could also be the beginning of a cold. Should you stay home or go to work?
Dr. Brown says it depends on how you feel.
Sari Friedman, a Toronto-based human resources consultant and career coach, says, “If someone is not feeling well enough to be productive at work then HR or the manager may suggest that the person go home.”
Symptom: Coughing or sore throat
A sore throat or coughing could mean you have a cold-particularly when paired with a runny nose. The good news is that if you aren’t experiencing a fever, aches or pains, it’s likely not the flu.
However, Dr. Brown recommends staying home and getting some rest so you don’t spread the infection to your colleagues.
“You can choose to take an analgesic like acetaminophen and give yourself 48 hours to feel better,” she says. It’s a good idea to drink lots of fluids and wash your hands frequently so you don’t spread the infection. She also recommends some comfort food: “That advice your mother gave you about having chicken soup for a sore throat actually has some medical research behind it and you will get better faster!”
Dr. Brown’s advice for a fever is simple: stay home. And be wary of the flu. “One of the most common symptoms of the flu is a fever, in addition to body aches and pains,” she says. If your fever is accompanied by these symptoms, you should definitely stay home; you could spread the infection to others and are more vulnerable to other infections as well.
Friedman agrees: “Employees should not feel that there is something heroic about coming to work contagious,” she says. “Most employers do not want employees who have contagious flu symptoms to come into the office.”
Symptom: Body aches and chills
Body aches and chills are far from fun. “Chills are the result of a change in body temperature and are equivalent to a fever,” says Dr. Brown. “So stay home.”
You know the drill: there’s an ache along the sides of your head and behind your eyes. This is often caused by stress. If you feel an ache around your eyes and cheekbones, it may be a sinus infection, while headaches that involve one side of the head are usually a migraine. Treat headaches on an case-by-case basis. For example, a stress-induced headache will usually go away in a few hours, while a migraine usually warrants rest in a dark, quiet room.
“The most serious kind of headache is one that is associated with neck stiffness, high fever and vomiting,” says Dr. Brown. That kind of headache could mean meningitis, more common in younger people. Call in sick and book an appointment with your doctor right way.
“The bottom line is, if a headache is different than one that you are familiar with and is incapacitating, you should seek medical attention immediately,” says Dr. Brown.