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Common Ailments

So what do you do if you wake up with a common cold or some other ailment? To help you decide, we have put together the following checklist of symptoms to help determine if you have a common cold or something else.

Runny nose?

If you are sniffling but not achy or feverish, it's probably just seasonal allergies or the beginning of a sinus infection. Runny nose - go to work!

Runny nose, Achy, Tiredness

If you have all three of these, then you're coming down with a common cold. Remember you are contagious in the first days so stay home. If you feel miserable, and have a fever, face it, you're not going to get much done at work besides spreading your illness. Also, you can recover quicker from a cold if you get plenty of rest.

Chills and Sweats and fever -

If your clothes are getting damp or wet, you likely have a fever. When you have a fever, you're contagious - stay home! It's most likely the flu. Drink lots of fluids, get plenty of rest and take Tylenol for 48 hours.

Fever, Headache, Stiff neck, Stomachache, and Sore throat

These five symptoms may be strep and may require an antibiotic. Strep is highly contagious, even in the 24 hours after you begin your antibiotic. After you see a doctor - stay home for at least 48 hours after you begin the antibiotic. Your throat can be as red as a fire truck yet tonsils may not be swollen, you still may have strep. And just because you see white spots in your throat doesn't mean you have strep!


If you just have a cough, it's likely to be something minor. Unless you have other cold symptoms, such as aches or fever, go to work! One exception would be a persistent tickle in your throat that causes coughing spells or you are unable to sleep or talk without coughing see your physician for a prescribed cough suppressant. Another exception is if the cough feels deep, wet sounding, causes shortness of breath or you feel weak. This may be due to a lack of oxygen, see your physician and have a chest x-ray. You could have bronchitis or pneumonia.


If the pain is severe or your inner ear is swollen and you can't hear well, then you may have an ear infection. That is not contagious - go to work. However, ear infections usually don't go away on their own so see your doctor, you may need an antibiotic. An ear infection may cause severe pain and headache, then don't go to work, and see your physician, especially if you notice drainage from your ear.


If your eyes are bright red, if there's creamy white stuff or yellow mucous in the corners, and your eyelashes are getting matted, that's likely pinkeye, which is highly contagious. Don't go to work. See a doctor for an antibiotic. It's another infection that needs antibiotic help and stay home from work!

Sinus Pain

If you have pain around your eyes, the top of your forehead, cheekbones, even your teeth hurt are all signs of a sinus infection. This could be either a common cold or seasonal allergies. Wait for seven days before you see your doctor to find out if you need an antibiotic or not. You will likely be able to go to work since sinus infections usually aren't contagious.

Stomach Problems

A stomach virus causes nausea, vomiting, low-grade fever, watery diarrhea or loose stools and your stomachaches. It can debilitate you for several days. The first 24-48 hours are miserable and it can take up to three days to recover, if longer see your physician. Drink lots of fluids, especially water, to prevent dehydration.

For the first day or two, it's best to limit your diet to clear fluids, bananas, rice, toast and apples Then add soft solids like mashed potatoes, Jell-O, etc. Go slow in adding solid foods like meat back to your diet. If you eat solid food too soon in your recovery, it just upsets your stomach more. Take Imodium or Pepto-Bismol as directed on the bottle.

Food Poisoning

If you have food poisoning, vomiting and diarrhea will usually occur within 3 hours after eating. This time frame is helpful for distinguishing it from a stomach virus. If it is food poisoning, once you vomit, you feel better.

Rule of thumb: If you can hold down your food, you can go to work.

Sprained or Strained Ankle

It is also a good idea to support your ankle with something like an Ace bandage so you don't re-injure it until you are able to get the physicians office to have an x-ray taken. Take an anti-inflammatory immediately, this will help, even if you're not in a lot of pain, because it will reduce swelling. Taking them with food will avoid irritating your stomach. You can reduce swelling without risking stomach problems by using an ice pack and elevating the injured part.

Headaches or Migraines

If you have a simple headache, go to work. However, if you can't take noise or light then you probably have a migraine and should stay home. There's no point in suffering from migraines If after taking an over the counter migraine tablet doesn't work, make an appointment with your doctor. There are drugs they can give you for migraines that start work within an hour and shorten your misery.

Poison Ivy

This is no reason to stay home, unless your eyes are swollen shut. Although the rash is not contagious, you can spread the oil that causes the rash to other parts of your body. Don't go to the bathroom without washing your hands first. Doing so can spread the poison ivy to places you will regret. If you have a dog that has been in the woods, shampoo the dog. You can get the rash from the dog's hair.

About 75% of people drag themselves to work when they are sick and should stay home. That is bad news for two reasons. First, they spread whatever they have to co-workers and that is antisocial behavior! Think about how you feel and ask yourself if you really want to share something like that.

The second reason to stay home when you're sick is that going to work costs your employer more than if you had stayed home. This bad judgement is responsible for 60% of the total costs of health care. Not only does your employer loose your production but who knows how many others will get sick.

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This consumer advocate website is protected by copyright 2002-2012 Askdocweb, Inc. All Rights Reserved. This is a layman's report on common ailments and is not intended to replace discussions with a health care provider. Do not use the information on this forum as a substitute for your doctor's advice. Always consult your doctor before taking any drug and follow your doctor's directions. Source material: Food and Drug Administration, Medline, Physician's Desk Reference, and the largest community of people in the world, those who are concerned about side effects and healthcare.
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