Down with a cold

Unlike more serious illnesses – which surely justify some real recovery time – a bad cold occupies a tricky grey area. On the one hand, you’re feeling grotty, and may not be working as effectively as normal. On the other hand, you’re probably still capable of turning up at work and soldiering on irrespective.

“Given that coughs and colds are so common, it would be impractical to take time off work with every viral infection,” says Dr Daniel Fenton, clinical director at the walk-in GP clinic, London Doctors Clinic.

“It is important to understand that the vast majority of coughs are self-limiting and very few will last more than a week or so. That said, if you do work in a small office space and are feeling really under the weather, then you might want to consider taking some time off to recover. You also reduce the risk of infecting your work colleagues.”

Most GPs agree with Fenton that in the majority of cases, you likely don’t need to take a sick day for a minor cold. In a recent Patient.info survey of 261 doctors, only 10% of respondents said they would always recommend their patients take time off for this type of illness.

The problem with presenteeism

However, whether or not to take time off for colds turns out to be a surprisingly complex issue. Each workplace is likely to have its own take on the subject, with some more forgiving than others.

“Not all organisations will pay for sick leave, and many individuals can’t afford to take time off when they’re not well, so push on regardless,” says Jack Evans, lead business psychologist at Robertson Cooper. “It’s also common for things like promotions or bonuses to be made available only to those individuals with very good absence records, which creates financial pressure to go into work.”

To put it simply, many organisations will seek to minimise employee absences in a variety of ways. Since they’re so easy to track, absence rates are often used as shorthand for the workforce’s overall health and well-being.

Unfortunately, this can lead to ‘presenteeism’ – people going into work when they’re mentally or physically unfit to be there.

In fact, presenteeism may represent a significant ‘hidden cost’ to workplaces. According to a survey by CIPD, presentee rates have more than tripled since 2010, with 86% of survey respondents saying they had observed presenteeism in their organisation over the last year. And in the 2017 Britain’s Healthiest Workplace study by VitalityHealth, the average employee reported that they spent 27.7 days a year underperforming due to ill health.

“Research doesn’t yet clearly outline the impact of presenteeism, but it certainly shows that organisations need to take it seriously,” says Evans. “The other side of presenteeism is that when it comes to people feeling physically unwell, by going to work we may pass on that illness to someone else in the team, who then is presented with the same choice.”

From the company’s point of view, having one employee function at 75% might not be such a problem. However, if they sneeze and cough their way around the office, other members of the workforce might end up functioning at 75%, which could be a less desirable outcome than having that first employee stay home.

With this in mind, Evans thinks organisations need to focus on workers’ underlying health, well-being, pressures and resilience, rather than looking exclusively at absence figures.

When should you stay home?

For the employee who is really struggling with a bad cold, a couple of days off work will probably be to their advantage. As Fenton puts it, rest is an underestimated therapeutic intervention.

“As working professionals, we all feel the need to be at work and meet deadlines,” he says. “However, when we are unwell, our immune system is working at full capacity to tackle the virus. Without rest, we are diverting some of our energy away from the immune system, to carry out our day-to-day tasks.”

He stresses that the term ‘rest’ doesn’t mean you need to confine yourself to bed for days on end, but rather entails a simple reduction in strenuous, non-essential activities.

“Eat well, drink plenty to keep yourself hydrated, and ensure you are taking some simple pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to help with the sore throat, joint aches and headache and fever that may sometime be associated,” he says.

Whether you can do all this while still going into work probably depends on your job – not to mention the severity of your illness. There are no hard and fast rules on the symptoms that definitively mean you must stay at home.

Indeed, 87% of GPs surveyed said that symptom severity would determine whether or not you should stay home; with 76% in agreement that your decision to take a sick day also depends on your line of work. For instance, if your job involves working with people who may have compromised immune systems, such as children or the elderly, it may be wise to stay home.

And certainly don’t soldier on if it could be a more serious illness.

“I would consider taking time off if you have a very high temperature, with shivers and shakes, not settling with paracetamol or ibuprofen,” says Fenton. (These symptoms are not seen with the common cold and may suggest a more serious problem.)

He adds you could also consider taking time off work if your symptoms are getting worse rather than better over the course of a week. The same applies if you have a condition that suppresses the immune system such as diabetes, heart disease or significant lung disease.

“I would also recommend booking in to see you GP in these circumstances, or if conventional over-the-counter treatments and rest have failed to help after a week or two,” he says.

So should employees stay at home when they have a cold? The answer, in short, is: “It’s complicated.”. If it really is just a cold, the illness will resolve on its own and (depending on your workplace) is rarely worth incurring an absence for. However, if you think you may be suffering from a more serious illness, like flu, you should absolutely make recovery a priority.

The question

I have a cold. Should I stay home even though I feel well enough to work?

The answer

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Because of multiple demands and busy work and personal lives, most people would answer “no” regardless of how they are feeling. In some cases, this may be appropriate – but not always.

Colds can cause symptoms such as a stuffy or runny nose, cough, low energy, decreased appetite and, on occasion, a low-grade fever. The vast majority of colds are caused by viruses and on average will resolve in seven to 10 days without the need for antibiotics.

There are several things to consider when deciding whether you should stay home from work. First, it is important to consider whether you are contagious. The challenge with this is that you may be contagious before you even realize you are sick. If you recognize the symptoms early enough, you may be able to avoid putting your co-workers at risk; usually by the time symptoms arise, however, you are no longer contagious.

In general, colds do not cause a great deal of harm. But if you work with the elderly, infants or people with compromised immune systems, consider staying home to prevent spreading the infection to them. In these vulnerable populations, even minor illnesses can lead to serious health issues.

Another thing to consider is how productive you will be. Certain symptoms, such as an uncontrollable cough or low energy, can make working difficult and may put yourself and others at risk. All to often, people will push themselves, which can actually delay recovery. And while there are an abundance of over-the-counter medications used for symptomatic relief of symptoms, be aware that some may effect your level of alertness – a danger in workplaces where you need to be alert to safely conduct your job.

Ultimately, the decision to stay home or go to work is a personal choice. The effect of illness upon each individual is unique. Know your body and your symptoms and use your own judgment to decide what is best for you and those around you. If cold symptoms persist or worsen and you feel that you need to be away from work for longer than a few days, it may be helpful to visit your doctor. Regardless of whether you decide to stay home or go to work, the best options for treatment and prevention of colds are rest, increasing fluid intake and washing your hands regularly to protect yourself and prevent spreading it to others.

Send family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe your questions at [email protected] She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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Should You Go to Work When You’re Sick?

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they get sick not being able to move out of bed let alone go to work.

With all the stress and responsibilities of our day-to-day life, it’s hard to imagine not having those days when we question our strength to go to our workplace.

Even if we work at home, if we are not feeling good we won’t be able to perform our very best, and having our laptop in our bed the whole day won’t give us the proper rest we need in order to overcome the illness we are having.

There are many different factors to consider when you’re thinking about going to work when you’re feeling sick, and rather just listing them, we will explain them one by one in order for you to determine if you can go to work or get some days off.

WHY DO SOME PEOPLE GO TO WORK WHEN THEY’RE SICK?

It’s not an easy question to answer, because some people are workaholics and think that if they miss a day at the office that their whole career comes into question.

Others think if they come loaded with tissues and tea disguised as coffee in a thermos that others won’t notice they’re sick at work.

The truth is that while you can try to hide that you’re sick as much as you want, but all the coughing and sneezing will blow your cover right away and neither your colleagues nor your boss will be delighted that you’ve decided to come to work in such state of health.

This is really dangerous as others might get sick as well.

Other people don’t even have an option when coming sick to work because some companies or employers don’t offer sick leave and people who don’t have a job alternative are simply forced to work while they’re struggling with a flu or a cold.

Being in such an unhealthy environment where you are stripped away from your rights to have a few days off until you recover is a nightmare not many people can endure in the long run and can even have even worse health consequences.

Studies have shown that about four in every ten Americans go to work when they’re sick because they fear that they might lose their job and at least one-quarter of them admit to coming sick so that they don’t seem like they are weak and can’t handle a common cold.

This doesn’t make any sense because it’s natural to feel weak when having a cold and doing anything else other than resting isn’t going to help you get better anytime soon.

What’s even shocking is that this serves as evidence to prove how many people are actually workaholics and take their careers more seriously than they actually should.

THREE REASONS WHY YOU SHOULDN’T GO TO WORK WHEN YOU’RE SICK

1. You’ll Just Prolong Your Sickness

When you feel terrible and have a hard time getting out of bed let alone coming to work the last thing you need is a desk where you sit for hours and hours waiting for the shift to be over and coming home exhausted and feeling even worse.

Because of that, you should try to stay away from any stressful activities such as paperwork and dealing with deadlines because the more stressed you are the less your body will be able to cope with the cold or the flu you’re experiencing.

There is no reason to torture yourself, in the end, we’re humans, not machines and even machines can malfunction and not get the job done, so relax.

2. You’ll Just Make More Mistakes Than Usual

Think about it, if you feel sick, all you can think about is how to get better and you won’t be focused on your work as you would when you’re in perfect health and mistakes are inevitable.

Your boss isn’t going to be pleased with you going to work sick let alone not being able to perform your very best which will all result in you getting penalized or even fired.

The same goes if you’re working at home because it’s not possible to be focused on your work when you’re in bed the whole day.

Instead of being focused on work you should focus on how to get well soon so you can continue where you left.

3. Your Colleagues Will Hate You

No one wants to be near a person who sneezes and coughs all the time, it’s basic humans sense after all, let alone work with that kind of person who has no disregard for the health of others.

Knowing that don’t expect any compassion from your colleagues and please don’t be that person who complains how your boss doesn’t let you have sick leave.

Also, the office is a perfect place for a disease to spread as most offices are poorly ventilated which means there is a high chance you can get someone else sick too, maybe even start an epidemic at your work which will surely make your boss angry and then you’ll have no job to come back to.

The only good thing if that is to happen is that at least you’ll get proper rest.

If you work in such a place where sick leave is not an option then you should quit as soon as possible and let others who can deal with the stress of that kind of job work in peace.

I’m sorry to say that there are thousands of such jobs and cases but some people don’t have another option other than to work and hope for the best.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU MUST GO TO WORK WHEN YOU ARE SICK

If you absolutely must go to work feeling like you’re going to die on your way over there then you need to be properly prepared in order to make it through the day.

Maybe it’s an important meeting you have to attend or you have a stack of paperwork which is due tomorrow either way, you must figure out a strategy how to not collapse on your desk and end up in the hospital.

Some of the strategies you can try are:

  1. Taking medicine – I’m not really a fan of medicine altogether but if you really have to go to work when sick go to your local drugstore and buy something for your condition which will help you at least not pass out. Of course, it’s always better to stay at home and have proper rest, but you got to do what you got to do.
  2. Get cozy and drink lots of tea beforehand – Grab a nice warm sweater and warm clothes and drink tea instead of coffee before you go to work and hope for the best. Just know if you have a temperature then those warm clothes will just make you overheat and you’ll just make the problem even worse.
  3. Avoid cigarettes and alcohol – Cigarettes and alcohol are bad for your health anyways let alone when you’re sick but if you already have these bad habits they are the last thing your body needs when it’s fighting off an illness. As far as coffee is concerned, you should avoid drinking it in high amounts as well as caffeine just raises your blood pressure and can even cause insomnia and your body is eager to have a good night sleep.
  4. Don’t come in contact with anyone – You should let everyone in your workplace that you’re sick so they know not to be near you so they don’t get sick as well.
  5. Quit your job – I know I’m repeating myself but for your own sake if you see that your job isn’t making you happy let alone giving you the opportunity to get better when you don’t feel so good then you should consider a different career path. There is nothing worth it of your health being jeopardized for a job you don’t even like that much.

These tips are just to help you go through that important meeting, but you should still call your boss to let him know that you’re sick and see if he cuts you some slack and lets you spend the day off work.

If not then I’m afraid to tell you, but you have a terrible boss.

WHAT IF YOU WORK FROM HOME

Working from home doesn’t mean that you are in a better position than someone who has to come to the office every day, because no matter what your job is you need to be in good health in order to accomplish all the tasks you’re given.

Being sick when you work at home is however better than needing to beg your boss for a sick leave but it has it’s downsides too.

Simply knowing that you have a lot of work waiting for you at your desk and actually seeing your desk from your bed is a nightmare people who work from their home know best.

Not being able to get out of bed let alone sit in your chair across the room is agitating and surely causes a feeling of dread.

Also working from home in some cases means that you have clients who expect work done by a certain deadline and there is no way to call them and tell them that you’re sick and can’t finish it in time meaning that you can potentially damage your career and reputation.

Of course, you can place your laptop on your lap while in bed but being in that position for hours will hurt your neck and back making your problem worse than it was.

If you really have work to do, I would suggest you work as much as you can, little by little, and avoid having the need to be sitting in front of your computer while sick.

The good thing about working at home is that once you get better you can immediately continue working and try to finish where you left your work at before the deadline is due and also not having to call your boss and hearing his disappointed voice is an advantage as well.

WHAT TO DO TO RECOVER QUICKLY

There is no magic spell to make you feel better instantly but knowing what you need to do in order to recover as soon as possible will surely save you some valuable time.

The thing is that you can’t determine how long the flu can last but you need to do everything in your power to get well soon enough.

If it’s a common cold or the flu, stay at home and get proper rest, drink lot’s of tea and eat a healthy diet containing fruits and vegetables which have all the beneficial vitamins and minerals your body desperately needs in order to fight off the illness.

A bowl of nice homemade chicken soup is also a great idea as the soup is great for dealing with a clogged nose and a sore throat.

Avoid physical activity but you should try and walk around the house a little so you don’t get sore muscles from laying in bed all day.

Also, remember to be cozy and warm because if you’re exposed to low temperatures your body won’t be able to cope with the cold if you spend your time in a cold room.

If you’re still feeling sick even though you’re sick leave is about to end then try to consult your boss in order to figure out what to do and see if he will let you have a day or two more off.

If not I’m sorry to say but you have to go to work, just try to have the least amount of contact with others.

DON’T AVOID THE DOCTOR

Knowing why you’re not feeling good and visiting a doctor to get a detailed examination and evaluation of your health is important before you even consider doing anything and not just going to work.

I would advise you to go to a doctor whenever you have time and as quickly as possible so you can get proper treatment in time and get better that much quicker.

Don’t think that coughing, runny nose, and high temperature are signs of the flu or common cold, you should go to a doctor’s appointment regardless.

Often times those symptoms can be linked to other illnesses or diseases, which aren’t as treatable as the common cold.

If you’ve started to feel sick at your job, go to a doctor after work or first thing in the morning and get a proper check-up to see what you’re dealing with.

If it’s just the flu you will get better in three days or a week with proper rest, but if not, you should consider getting a prolonged sick leave because illnesses which pose a serious threat to your health are no laughing matter.

BE PREPARED FOR IT

The flu season is unpredictable but if you hear in the news that it’s on the run you should know how to protect yourself from getting sick in the first place.

Don’t come into contact with anyone who you see is coughing or sneezing, wash your hands as often as possible and basically become a germaphobe.

Also, people don’t think about this but when you’re in your twenties you’re still young and vital and rarely get sick but once you get into your thirties, forties and even fifties there is a greater chance that you can get sick so it’s not a bad idea to know how your body reacts as you age.

What I’m trying to say is that no matter how cold or hot it is you should be properly dressed for a certain type of weather in order to prevent catching a cold.

If it’s going to rain bring an umbrella because being wet in combination with wind will surely result in you getting sick by the time you even reach your workplace.

If you take these simple precautions you’ll have a far less chance to get sick and won’t need to worry about all the difficulties of coming to the office with a runny nose and a pocket full of tissues.

It’s not something you can really control but at least you should try to prevent it and preserve your health.

WHAT IF YOU GET SICK OF YOUR JOB

There is no medicine, doctor or treatment known to man that can cure your dead-end job where you feel lousy and underpaid let alone make you love it and stay there for the rest of your career.

That’s why you need to know what you’re getting yourself into before you accept any kind of job.

No job is fun and easy to do, that’s why they are called jobs, otherwise, they would be called hobbies, but that doesn’t mean that you should get sick from simply coming to work.

Let’s be real, there are jobs like mining where the miners get all kinds of lung diseases because they breathe in dust constantly and it is a hard job to do, but some people have no other choice.

Every company should have regulations which concern a workers health and what happens when a worker gets sick or possibly injured, but sadly not all companies have such regulations and some that do don’t respect the rights of their workers.

From how a company or employer treats its employees to what are your basic rights as a worker, you should know how it all works and which benefits you have in order not to get yourself involved in a job that makes you not want to go there at all. It’s tough to find an ideal job but at least get one which won’t send you to the hospital.

Not to talk about how many stressful jobs actually cause illnesses related to stress because as we all know stress can be the trigger of many health conditions.

Some people never experience stress either because they love their job or just handle pressure very well, for others, it’s a death sentence.

IT ALL COMES DOWN TO YOUR BOSS

Your boss should be considerate when he or she sees that you’re sick and give you a few days of sick leave because it’s better for you to have proper rest and then come back feeling much better and eager to finish the work you have left then to slack off and potentially make others sick in the process.

No boss should even allow his worker to step into the office when they’re sick so be sure to call your boss before you head off to work to avoid an awkward situation which might get your boss agitated.

It’s true that not all bosses act like this and have an understanding of their workers’ basic needs but a rational and smart employer will never let any employee come to the office loaded with tissues and with a runny nose drooling and coughing at his or her desk.

You should take this into consideration next time you apply for a job in order to prevent those kinds of situations where you’re basically forced to work when you’re sick because as we said with more stress your health can get even worse.

FINAL WORD

To summarize, avoid going to work when you’re sick if you don’t have to and instead try to get sick leave and rest at home until you get better.

If you must go to work because of an important event you should try to come and get rest after.

There are plenty of reasons not to go to work when sick but some people choose to do it regardless of all that, you certainly don’t want to be the person who contaminated the whole office just because you thought the deadline is more important than yours and other peoples’ health.

Lastly, it’s not worth it, you’re just making yourself feel even worse, not doing your job properly and could even cause others to get sick as well.

Knowing this, you should stay at home, get cozy and get a good night sleep.

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When Should You Stay Home With a Cold?

If you’ve ever caught a cold from a co-worker, you’ve probably wished for some kind of walk-through germ detector that would keep everyone who is ill from entering the workplace until they’re healthy again. But when the tables are turned and you’re the one with a bad cold, it’s sometimes tough to make the decision to stay home. Still, even if you have few — if any — paid sick days, it’s important to take care of yourself when you’re ill, and sometimes that means hunkering down in bed with a cup of tea for a few days. Your co-workers will thank you, and you’ll feel better sooner.

Cold Symptoms That Should Keep You Home

If you are diligent about hand washing, going to work with mild sniffles, sneezing, or a cough isn’t risky for yourself or your co-workers. But you should stay home if:

  • You have a fever
  • You have a bad cough (frequent, loud, painful)
  • You’re taking medication that makes you drowsy
  • You’re just too tired or achy to function at work

Where you work and what you do are also factors, of course. If you need to be alert and physically active to work safely, stay home if you’re not fully functioning or are taking cold medication that might make you drowsy. If you work with infants, seniors, or anyone with a compromised immune system, protect their health by staying at home until your cold symptoms have gone away.

Enough with the old wives’ tales that have kept kids indoors long enough! It’s time to fight back with facts.

There are all sorts of strange old wives’ tales surrounding outdoor play and children. We shout things at our little ones, warning them of terrible health issues that could arise if they dare go outside with wet hair, with full bellies, with coats unzipped and hats off. These warning phrases have been repeated for generations, and are so ingrained in our minds that many of us younger parents reiterate them, without stopping to question whether or not they actually make sense.

The time has come to debunk these myths, because North American kids and their parents need every bit encouragement to spend time outside — not outdated and unfounded beliefs that make them think it’s not safe.

1. Colds

Kids do not catch colds from the cold. The common cold is a “viral upper respiratory tract infection,” which means it comes from a virus, caught through contact with other humans. If there are no viruses around, you will not catch a cold, no matter how cold you get.

There is truth, however, in the fact that cold weather can impede the body’s ability to fight off a cold and make it more susceptible to catching a cold when the child comes into contact with the virus.

Ironically, staying indoors usually means more contact with other people, which creates more opportunities for the pathogens to spread, as does decreased humidity (which dried out protective mucus in the nose) and reduced vitamin D.

If your kid does catch a cold, then don’t make him to stay in bed. Even the National Center for Biotechnology Information states, “In winter, children with colds can still play outside.”

2. Fever

If your child has a low-grade fever, it won’t make the fever worse to let him or her play outside. As long as a kid isn’t too sick to get out of bed, they should be allowed to burn off some restless energy in fresh air for short periods of time. Pediatrician Andrew Adesman, author of Babyfacts, writes:

“People sometimes get a little nutty around fever; we go out of our way to suppress it. But fever is our friend; it’s helping fight infection. And children can have a fever as high as 105 degrees without serious risk of harm. Parents also keep kids inside with fever, but those with a low-grade fever can go outside and play if they feel like it.”

If outdoor play and fresh air helps a child to sleep better, then exposure could be beneficial. You could even let your feverish child sleep outdoors.

3. Cramps & Drowning

I first discovered this myth when I moved to Sardinia, Italy. My host parents insisted that it was unsafe to swim, shower, or bathe for one hour after eating because I might get terrible cramps and drown or collapse on the shower floor. I’d never heard of such a thing before. It turns out, they’re wrong.

While cramping after eating is indeed a possibility, there don’t seem to be any links to drowning, nor do the American Academy of Pediatrics or the Red Cross acknowledge such a connection. From MedicineNet:

“While it’s true that the digestive process does divert the circulation of the blood toward the gut and to a certain extent, away from the muscles, the fact is that an episode of drowning caused by swimming on a full stomach has never been documented.”

4. Ear Infections

If your child goes outside with their head uncovered, they will not develop an ear infection. They might just have a cold head. According to Dr. William Mesibov, who specializes in debunking old wives’ tales about medical issues, ear infections are caused exclusively by germs. They occur in the middle ear, which is completely protected from the outside world, and are not the result of exposure to cold or windy environments.

“Germs invade the middle ear cavity only when mucus or swollen adenoids block the Eustachian tube. And that happens only as a result of a cold or allergies, not because of exposure to dampness or inclement weather.”

So, parents, you have nothing to fear, nor excuses to use! Send those kids outside to play all winter long.

It’s wintertime, which means plenty of people are coughing, sneezing and blowing their noses. But if you or a loved one start to show these symptoms, how do you know if it’s the flu, or just a really bad cold?

It’s not easy to tell the difference between a cold and the flu, because the two conditions cause similar symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are also both viral illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. The only way to know for sure if you have the flu is to visit your doctor and get a diagnostic test for the flu virus. However, most people with the flu don’t need to get a flu test, because the results usually won’t change your treatment, the CDC said.

Still, there are some symptoms that tend to be more common with colds than with the flu, and vice versa. In general, flu symptoms tend to be more severe than cold symptoms, according to the CDC. Here are some ways you may be able to tell if you have a cold or the flu:

  • Symptoms of a cold usually come on gradually, whereas symptoms of the flu can appear suddenly.
  • Symptoms such as sneezing, a stuffy nose and sore throat are more common with colds than with the flu.
  • People with the flu usually develop a fever, whereas people with colds rarely do.
  • The flu often causes body aches and headaches, which can be severe. If you have a cold, aches are usually mild.
  • The flu can cause serious complications, such as pneumonia or bacterial infections, but such complications are rare with colds.

Regardless of whether you have a cold or the flu, the illness will usually go away on its own, but you should visit your doctor if your symptoms change or get worse, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

You can also get a seasonal flu vaccine to protect yourself from the flu each year, the CDC said. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to protect you from the common cold.

Washing your hands frequently can also help prevent either a cold or the flu, since both conditions can spread from person to person via contact with contaminated surfaces. If you get sick with either a cold or the flu, it’s important to stay hydrated and get plenty of rest to help your body recover, according to Syracuse University.

Original article on Live Science.

How Long to Stay Home

Experts generally agree that it’s best to stay home as long as you have severe symptoms, like a cough with mucus, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or fatigue, because you may be contagious. And the CDC recommends staying home at least 24 hours after your fever goes away unless you need to leave the house for medical care or other urgent reasons.

Also, rest is an important part of getting over any illness, so there’s another reason to take it easy while you feel sick.

How quickly you recover from a cold or the flu depends on how healthy you are. In general, healthy people usually get over a cold in 7 to 10 days. Flu symptoms, including fever, should go away after about 5 days, but you may still have a cough and feel weak a few days longer. All your symptoms should be gone within 1 to 2 weeks.

When you go back to work or school, make sure to cover your mouth when you cough and wash your hands often so you don’t spread the illness to other people.

These viruses can develop into serious illnesses like pneumonia in people who have weak immune systems, asthma, or other respiratory conditions. So if you have a chronic illness, your healing time may be different.

If your child is sick, it’s best for her to stay home until she feels well again. If she has a fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or any kind of pain, isn’t hungry, or seems extra tired or clingy, she should stay home.

But check with your child’s daycare or school before you send her back to her regular schedules. Many places have rules about how long kids need to stay home. Usually it’s at least a full day after they don’t have any fever without medication.

You’ve just woken up, your throat feels scratchy and your nose is blocked. But you’re not exactly on death’s door.

Should you go to work?

Blue Mountains GP Miriam Brooks says there are two reasons to avoid work when you have a cold or flu.

“One is to rest and recover, in which case people should be guided by their symptoms — fatigue, fever, feeling unwell,” she says.

The other reason to stay home is to avoid making your co-workers sick, which can happen even if you’re feeling OK.

But when and for how long you should avoid work depends on a few things.

Why you should stay home and rest

Some of us really struggle to stay home from work when we’re sick.

That can be because we don’t receive sick pay or don’t have much flexibility.

Many of us feel that any time off will mean an increased workload on our return, whereas for others it’s a case of not wanting to let the team down.

All of which can make us feel pressured to work through illness, often masking our symptoms with over-the-counter medications in order to carry on.

“There is such a cultural push about soldiering on,” Dr Brooks says.

These attitudes create a phenomenon known as “presenteeism” — reduced productivity at work due to health problems — which costs the Australian economy more than $34 billion a year.

And it’s not just bad for your workplace.

“If people force themselves to work when they are really unwell, they may end being sicker for a lot longer,” Dr Brooks says.

The ‘stay home’ symptoms

Michael Tam is from the UNSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine. He says if you feel horrible and are not likely to be productive at work, it makes sense to stay home.

“This might be due to the severity of specific symptoms like sore throat or cough, or an overall sense of tiredness and fatigue,” he says.

“Secondly, if you are actively having coughing that is difficult to control, or still having vomiting or diarrhoea, it would be worthwhile staying at home to avoid passing on the virus to work colleagues or members of the public.”

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Given the average adult has several respiratory viral infections a year, some of us may not feel able to stay home for all of them.

But symptoms including fever, chills, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and accompanying cough are ones that really do call for bed rest (or time on the couch with the remote).

“If symptoms are such that they are quite uncomfortable — and that would often be the case by the time someone chooses to see a doctor rather than self-manage — then it would be very reasonable for them to use their sick leave for rest and recovery,” Dr Tam says.

If your symptoms are mild and above the neck — for example, a runny nose and sore throat — you might be OK to do things like exercise, but work could still be risky if you have contact with other people, as you may be contagious (more on this below).

If you are tempted to use over-the-counter analgesics and decongestants to improve symptoms, Dr Tam says not to overdo it.

If you work in the food service industry, the risk of spreading viruses is heightened.(Unsplash: Fabrizio Magoni)

When am I contagious?

If symptoms are relatively mild and the risk of spreading the infection isn’t high, it might be OK for you to go to work, says Dr Tam.

But as it depends on the type of virus and your context, there isn’t a simple, definitive answer.

“By the time you ‘notice you’re sick’ — usually at the beginning of the illness with the symptoms getting worse before getting better — you are probably during the most contagious period,” warns Dr Tam.

“It is probably fair to say that while you have symptoms due to a flu or cold, you may be contagious, if symptoms are improving or it’s been over a week since symptoms began.”

Dr Brooks’ advice echoes this. She adds that otherwise-healthy adults can transmit influenza a day before symptoms begin.

For a cold, she says you’ll generally be contagious for “a couple of days”.

So if you start to show signs of a winter virus, the responsible thing to do is take yourself back home so you don’t make others sick.

If you develop a persistent cough that outlasts the general recovery time, then provided you haven’t picked up another virus, you aren’t likely infectious.

“People can develop post-infectious symptoms — like a persistent cough from irritation and inflammation of the upper airways,” Dr Tam says.

Note: not everyone who is infected with the common cold of flu will have symptoms, says Dr Tam, but they can still spread the virus.

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How long should I have off work?

As a minimum, people should stay away from work two to three days with a cold, and for the first week of influenza, recommends Dr Brooks.

She says if you are sensing your body needs more rest, it’s better to stay home. If you aren’t sure, see a GP.

The number of days to take off work also depends on the severity of the illness and nature of the workplace, says Dr Tam.

“For instance, for people working in health or involved food preparation and handling, the risk they pose to the public is rather higher,” he says.

“Healthcare workers with a diagnosis of influenza, the recommendation is that they are excluded from work until the resolution of their symptoms, as long as it has been at least five days since the beginning of their symptoms.”

Avoiding public places where possible is advised, but especially avoid people with lowered immunity such as babies and young children, pregnant women, elderly people and people on immune suppressing medications, says Dr Brooks.

And yes, that means using your sick days to go to the shopping centre is a bad idea.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume. Watch Duration: 1 minute 57 seconds1m 57s Ever wondered if it’s OK to text in sick? Real-world bosses weigh in on sick leave, watching the clock, and more.

When should you see your doctor or go to hospital?

Children, the elderly and people with health conditions like diabetes or asthma should always be assessed by a medical professional, says Dr Brooks.

For everyone else, “a high fever, headaches and worsening of symptoms” may need medical attention.

If unsure, Dr Brooks says you should never feel bad about just getting checked out.

Where people feel critically unwell, Dr Tam says they should go to the emergency department for urgent assessment.

“For most people, this should be a rare event.”

Other ways to stop the spread

Other than staying away from work and public spaces, there are things you can do to stop the spread of your virus.

Our experts recommend:

  • Coughing into your arm (the vampire cough) and sneezing into a tissue (and be sure to dispose of it properly)
  • Washing your hands regularly with soap and water or use alcohol rubs — particularly after travelling on public transport and visiting hospitals or your GP
  • Wearing a surgical mask.

This is general information only. For detailed personal advice you should see a qualified medical practitioner who knows your medical history.

When, and how long, should you stay home?

Remember: It’s not just about you.

Even if you can battle the flu by enduring a miserable week, it can be deadly for others, especially pregnant women, young children and older people. And no matter how many precautions you take, there’s no way to eliminate risk to people around you.

As a general rule, Dr. Tosh suggested people stay home until they are fever-free for 24 hours. He said he stayed out of work for three or four days the last time he had the flu.

“People can be infectious even before they start to have symptoms, but most of the time that they’re going to be most infectious is going to be when they are sickest, especially if they’re having fevers,” he said.

Infectious germs are spread most frequently by airborne “respiratory droplets” from sneezing and coughing. The flu virus can last for up to 24 hours depending on the surface, Dr. Tosh said.

By coughing or sneezing into your hands, or wiping a runny nose, your hands can spread the germs to everything you touch — including surfaces many other people touch, such as door knobs, elevator buttons or shopping carts.

“You’re never truly not contagious until all of those symptoms are resolved,” said Dr. David Shih, executive vice president of strategy, health and innovation at CityMD, which runs a chain of urgent care centers in New Jersey, New York and Washington.

How can you limit the exposure to others?

Let’s say you’re ignoring the doctors and going out into the world anyway.

You’re not alone: A CityMD survey in August found that 69 percent of Americans with the flu or flulike symptoms said they went to the drugstore or a pharmacy, 43 percent said they went to the grocery store and 39 percent said they went to work. Millennials (76 percent) were far more likely than those 35 or older (56 percent) to have left the house the last time they were sick.

Having a cold is never fun. What starts as a telltale tickle in the back of your throat can turn into several weeks off sick and spread through your family like wildfire.

When you’re struck down by a stinking cold, it’s common for people to try and go about their normal lives. But should you go to the gym? Drink booze? Or take time off work? GP Dr Emma Pooley from BMI The Park Hospital answers your most common cold and flu questions, so you can focus on getting better.

Can I go to the gym when I have a cold?

A good workout can give you a much-needed energy boost, but will strenuous exercise set your illness back?

‘When you have a cold, your immune system is already activated to fight the infection, so doing strenuous exercise puts your body under additional stress,’ says Dr Pooley.

Doing strenuous exercise puts your body under additional stress.

‘In my opinion, it’s better to rest until you feel able to work out properly again, otherwise you run the risk of prolonging your illness and sabotaging your training sessions further. Listen to your body. If you feel tired, are having trouble breathing and generally are lacking in energy, it’s probably better to give the gym a miss.’

‘A gentle walk in the fresh air is fine, as long as you feel up to it’, says Dr Edward Gaynor from Bupa. ‘You can’t catch a cold by being cold but you should certainly wrap up warm if you do go out. It’s generally not wise to do anything more strenuous – you’ll already be dehydrated, tired and achy, and may be having problems breathing. Exercise will make all of those symptoms worse.’

Paul BradburyGetty Images

Can I drink alcohol if I have a cold?

From a hot toddy to a night on the tiles, it’s tempting to try and drink through a cold, but is booze really a cure-all, or will it set you back?

It’s best not to drink alcohol when you have a cold. Instead, eat healthy food and drink fluids.

‘Alcohol disrupts sleep, which is essential for your body to make a full recovery, and is also best avoided with some over-the-counter cold remedies,’ says Dr Pooley. ‘My overall opinion would be that it’s best not to drink alcohol when you have a cold. Instead, eat healthy food, drink lots of fluids and rest. If you want a dash of whiskey in your hot toddy, it’s not the end of the world but you’ll probably recover quicker without it.’

Dr Gaynor agrees. ‘My view is that when I have a cold I don’t want to do anything that might prolong it, and alcohol will do that, so I’d avoid it for that reason.’

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Should I take time off work with a cold?

If you have a lingering cold, it’s tempting to soldier on and keep going to work, but this could prolong your illness and potentially pass on your germs to co-workers.

‘People do feel guilty about taking time of work with a cold, but you’re unlikely to be productive if you’re tired and don’t feel well, plus you’re likely to be highly contagious in the early stage,’ says Dr Gaynor. ‘If you can rest, do.’

If you’re running a high temperature you’re probably in no fit state to go to work.

‘My advice here is to use your common sense,’ says Dr Pooley. ‘If you’re running a high temperature, feel exhausted and can barely get out of bed, you’re probably in no fit state to go to work. If, however, you’re past the sneezing and coughing phase and feel well enough to go in, follow best practice in terms of hygiene advice: cough or sneeze into a tissue rather than your hand, and cough into the crook of your elbow to prevent germs from spreading from your hands to other surfaces.’

‘Get a gel hand sanitiser, wash your hands often and thoroughly and use disposable paper towels to dry then with,’ she adds. ‘Remember, though, that you’ll recover faster if you rest properly, and there’s less risk of your cold developing into something nasty like a chest infection if you take the time you need. You don’t want to go back only to find yourself floored by the next virus doing the rounds two weeks later.’

BSIPGetty Images

Can I go to a party/kid’s party with a cold?

This one is a no-brainer! ‘Don’t go to a party or children’s party if you’re still coughing and sneezing,’ says Dr Pooley. ‘You’ll still be infectious at this stage so stay away, especially if very little babies will be there. If you’re over the worst and the cold is at the final stages it’s probably OK, but check with the parent first.

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When is a cold actually flu?

‘Flu is caused by a completely different virus to those that cause colds,’ says Dr Pooley. ‘The culprit is the influenza virus – strains A and B specifically. Flu is a much more serious illness that can have you bed-bound for several days with a high temperature (38C+), chills, headache, a runny nose and muscles aches and pains.’

Flu is caused by a completely different virus to those that cause colds.

‘Flu symptoms come on quickly (colds take longer to develop) so if you sense it’s more than a cold, you can see your GP for prescription drugs that help to reduce the severity of the symptoms – but these are only effective if taken within 48 hours of initial symptoms coming on.’

Dr Gaynor agrees that flu needs to be taken seriously. ‘If you have an underlying illness, are over 65 or suspect a child under three years old has flu, seek medical advice,’ he says.

‘Otherwise, talk to your pharmacist about the best medicine to take to help reduce the symptoms while you recover. Don’t forget to see if you’re eligible for the flu jab – see NHS Choices for the current criteria.’

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The dilemma

Your head feels as if it’s made of chewing gum, your nose is dripping like a broken tap and someone has rubbed sandpaper down the back of your throat. You’ve got a cold – the first of between two and five that you’re likely to get this year. You curse that man at work who sneezed all over you in the lift the other day. If your toddler catches this cold you’ll get no sleep for a week. Don’t people with colds realise they should keep them to themselves? But what do you do? Do you stay at home to stop others catching it, or head to work because you’ve got an important meeting and you don’t want your colleagues to have to cover for you?

The solution

Colds are caused by viruses and last on average seven days, usually causing symptoms such as a runny nose, cough, loss of appetite, tiredness and, occasionally, a slight fever. Professor Ronald Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University says that it’s fine to go into work if you feel well enough. “If people didn’t go into work when they had colds, the UK economy would grind to a halt over winter,” he says. It isn’t selfish to take your cold to work with you because most colds, he points out, are caught at home, where we spend hours huddled up to each other on the sofa and in bed. Colds are so ubiquitous you can’t escape them and if you are exposed to a cold virus it doesn’t mean you will inevitably catch it.

But you are likely to be less productive at work – so if possible avoid jobs that need mental or manual effort for the first couple of days of your cold. If you work with elderly people or young children you need to assess the risk more thoroughly – although both groups will be exposed to colds from many sources. And stay away from anyone who has a chronic respiratory problem or who is on chemotherapy – for them a cold virus can be seriously harmful. Be hygienic at work too – cough and sneeze into tissues and wash your hands often and thoroughly. You are most infectious when you have the early symptoms of coughing, sneezing and a dripping nose.

(Eccles says we should send our children to school with colds too, if they feel well enough to go and don’t have a fever.) Eccles’ studies in Cardiff show that out of 1,000 people with colds, only a couple will have a fever. If you do get one, or feel dizzy or unwell, then you should rest for a day and not go into work. For some people who are self-employed or worried about job security this may not be an option, in which case you should drink soothing cups of hot water, lemon and honey and have a nice steam when you get home (stick your head over a bowl of hot water with a bit of Olbas oil in it, put a towel over your head and the bowl, and inhale) as well as an early night.

Common cold

Symptoms of a cold

The first symptom of a cold is usually a sore throat. This is generally followed by sneezing or a blocked, sore or runny nose. Usually, 1 in 3 people with a cold will get a cough and feel unwell.

Colds are caused by viruses. Antibiotics cannot treat viruses. Instead, drink plenty of liquids to replace those lost from sweating and runny noses. Get lots of rest and eat healthily. Do not ask your GP for antibiotics for a cold.

You will usually feel worse during the first 2 to 3 days before gradually starting to improve. Your symptoms will usually last about a week.

Cold and flu symptoms are similar but flu tends to be more severe.

Cold

  • Appears gradually
  • Affects mainly your nose and throat
  • Makes you feel unwell but you’re OK to carry on as normal – for example, go to work

Flu

  • Appears quickly within a few hours
  • Affects more than just your nose and throat
  • Makes you feel exhausted and too unwell to carry on as normal

Cold symptoms can include:

  • blocked or runny nose
  • sore throat
  • headaches
  • muscle aches
  • coughs
  • sneezing
  • a raised temperature
  • pressure in your ears and face
  • loss of taste and smell

The symptoms are the same in adults and children. Sometimes, symptoms last longer in children.

Causes of colds

Colds are caused by viruses. They can easily spread to other people. You’re infectious until all your symptoms have gone. This usually takes about a week.

Colds are spread by germs from coughs and sneezes which can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.

To reduce the risk of spreading a cold you should:

  • wash your hands often with warm water and soap
  • cough into your elbow to stop germs getting on to your hands and spreading to other people
  • use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze
  • bin used tissues as quickly as possible

How to prevent catching a cold

The best ways to avoid catching a cold are:

  • washing your hands with warm water and soap, especially before eating
  • not sharing towels or household items, like cups, with someone who has a cold
  • not touching your eyes or nose. You can infect your body if you’ve come into contact with the virus.
  • staying fit and healthy

The flu vaccine helps prevent flu but not colds.

Related topic

How to wash your hands correctly

Treatment

Most colds can be treated at home. They will get better by themselves without any specific treatment. Drink plenty of liquids, get lots of rest and eat healthily. Resume your normal activities when you feel well enough.

Talk to your pharmacist about products and medications that will help. Paracetamol or ibuprofen will relieve pain or a fever. Nasal saline sprays will help to clear a blocked nose. Over-the-counter throat sprays, lozenges and cough remedies may also help.

Be careful taking cough and cold medicines if you’re also taking paracetamol and ibuprofen tablets. This is because it’s easy to take more than the recommended dose.

Some medicines are not suitable for children, babies and pregnant women.Check with your pharmacist.

There’s little evidence that supplements such as vitamin c, zinc, echinacea or garlic prevent colds or speed up recovery.

Only see a GP if :

  • your symptoms don’t improve after 3 weeks
  • you’re finding it hard to breathe or develop chest pain
  • your symptoms get suddenly worse
  • your temperature is very high or you feel hot and shivery
  • you’re concerned about your child’s symptoms
  • you have a long-term medical condition – for example, diabetes, or a heart, lung, kidney or neurological disease
  • you have a weak immune system – for example, if you have diabetes or you’re having chemotherapy

Antibiotics

Antibiotics won’t relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery.

Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections. Colds are caused by viruses.

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