Column: Too sick for work?


Commentary by Gerald Mick, M.D.

When illness strikes, one of the first questions we ask is “should I stay home?” The answer varies, depending on symptoms and discomfort. Sometimes we’re able to push through the day with a cold or sore throat, and other times even minor illnesses make us too weak to get out of bed. When the decision isn’t clear, keep these factors in mind to determine if it’s in your—and your co-workers—best interest to stay home.

Fever – A fever indicates you’re contagious. If you have one, it’s best to stay home. Chills and sweats are signs of fever, so take your temperature to be sure. If it’s over 102 degrees F, call your primary care doctor.

Sniffles and cough – While it’s probably okay to go to work with these symptoms, wash hands frequently and cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or shirtsleeve to avoid spreading germs. If a persistent cough is deep and you’re short of breath, call your doctor for evaluation. These could be signs of bronchitis or pneumonia.

Headache – If your headache includes sensitivity to noise or light, it may be a migraine. Consider staying home if you have migraine symptoms, and call your doctor if headaches become frequent.

Pinkeye – Characterized by redness, white or yellow mucus in the corner of the eye, and matted eyelashes, pinkeye can easily be spread to others. This means calling in sick if you suspect you have it. Consult with your doctor to see if it should be treated with an antibiotic.

While minor illnesses are a nuisance, the good news is healthy people generally recover quickly. You’re the best judge of how you feel; trust your instinct and use common sense about when to stay home, and call your doctor if symptoms become more serious.

Gerald Mick, M.D., specializes in family medicine and is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians – IU Health North Hospital in Carmel. He can be reached by calling the office at 317.688.5626. For more health information, subscribe to Strength In You at


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