Will your company really fall apart if you don't show up for work even though you are sick?

Face it, probably not!

Co-worker with a coldCredit: abcnews.go.com

You wake up with flu, cold, or allergy symptoms.  You have watery eyes, a runny nose, coughing, your head is pounding and you have a generally achy feeling all over.  On the other hand, you have a deadline that just has to met today and if you don't show up for work you don't get paid.  What do you do?

In many cases, your employer may not want you to show up for work under these circumstances.  Not only does your risk of injury increase if your medication makes you drowsy, but your productivity is likely to be poor as well.  And, worse of all, you might pass on a virus to your co-workers so they too get sick.  Finally, your own recovery might be delayed if you aren't getting enough rest to help you fight off your sickness. 

If you absolutely must go to work you are likely to take whatever over-the-counter medication you can to help you feel a little better and to help with your symptoms.  The typical cold medications are antihistamines or decongestants or a combination of both.

Unfortunately, the side effects of these drugs can be dangerous depending on the use and dosage.  Many non-prescription drugs cause drowsiness, inattentiveness, may impair one's ability to concentrate and to make decisions, and can slow down your reflexes to some degree.  Taking medications when driving to and from work or using machinery or tools can be another risk while taking these medications.

If you really can't stay home and get better when you are sick and you need to take an over-the-counter medication, remember the following:

  • Let your supervisor know that you aren't feeling well and that you are taking medication.  It might be possible to change your work assignments, especially if you perform hazardous work.  This will also let your supervisor know why your work might not be quite up to par for a few days.  This will also help in case of emergency, if you happen to get injured, the first responder will know what type of medication you are taking if you have informed your supervisor.
  • Follow the recommended dosages.  Using twice the dosage definitely will not make you feel twice as good!  It will make you more drowsy and less able to work and concentrate.  It will also increase the potential side effects without making any significant difference in your symptoms.  Follow all package and label directions carefully.
  • Do not mix your medications.  These pills, capsules, or tonics are chemicals and should be treated as such.  They may not be compatible when mixed together and could cause more harm than good.  Never use alcohol when taking cold or flu medications.
  • Read all labels.  There are warnings about the dosage and side effects that need to be heeded.  There could be warnings about driving or operating machinery.  These labels are included on the medication for the purpose to warn you of the dangers that you might encounter while taking the medication.  If you have questions, ask the pharmacist.
  • Don't try new remedies and medications during work hours.  Someone might offer you something that "will really work!"  Everyone reacts differently to cold and flu medications.   If you must try something new, do it on the weekend or when you aren't working.  Possible side-effects tend to diminish within a few days and shouldn't jeopardize your safety when you return to work.

Common Sense

  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing. 
  • Wash your hands often. 
  • Clean and sanitize work areas frequently.
  • Avoid other co-workers to keep from spreading your illness.
  • Work from home if at all possible.