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Too Sick to Work?

How sick is too sick to go to work? Advice on when you should just stay home.

Too Sick to Work: Sinus Infection continued...

But if symptoms don’t improve in a few days or get worse, it’s time to see the doctor, who may treat you with antibiotics.

What about flying for business? Neither Haynes nor Cummins counsels patients to absolutely avoid airplanes if they have a sinus infection. But both urge caution because air pressure changes inside the cabin may worsen pain, especially on takeoff and landing.

“If you’re really sick, I wouldn’t travel anyway,” Haynes says. “But if you have a mild sinus infection and you have to travel, take a decongestant and/or antihistamine before you get on the plane.”

In rare cases, flying with a sinus infection could cause a ruptured eardrum, Cummins says. “It’s a very sudden, painful event, often followed by a bit of blood that may come out of the ear.”

“That sounds like a horrible thing,” Haynes says, “but most of the time, it would heal itself.” A ruptured eardrum typically repairs within two months; any hearing loss is usually temporary.

Too Sick to Work: Pinkeye

Pinkeye, or conjunctivitis, causes eye redness, tearing, itching, burning, or swollen eyelids. Eye discharge can be clear and watery or copious and yellow or green, and it can make your eyelids stick shut in the morning.

When pinkeye stems from a viral or bacterial infection (as opposed to allergies or irritation), it’s highly contagious; and you’d be smart to avoid going to work. If you touch your eye, the discharge that contains the bacteria or virus ends up on your hand. When you touch objects, the germs can spread.

Antibiotics don’t work against viral pinkeye, but the condition will improve on its own, usually in three to five days. Consider staying home for a few days until you get better. When you return to work, avoid touching your eyes and wash your hands often.

Bacterial pinkeye does respond to antibiotic eye drops. You can go back to work 24-48 hours after starting this treatment, Haynes says.

Too Sick to Work: Back Pain

An aching back is so common that it’s a major reason for doctors’ visits, Haynes says.

Many people figure out ways to manage mild back pain on the job. But sometimes it makes good sense to take time off to relieve stress on your sore back, for example, if your job involves a lot of bending or lifting heavy objects, she says.

Sitting at a desk for long hours can also worsen back pain. If the pain is strong enough to distract you from your tasks, or if you have trouble sitting, standing, or walking comfortably, a couple of days off may help.

If you take a day or two off from work, be aware that lying still all day isn’t the best solution, Haynes says. “The best thing for back pain is actually mild to moderate movement. You don’t want to completely stop moving. Somebody who goes to bed and just lies there is going to prolong their recovery.”

If you have more serious symptoms, such as pain radiating down the leg, muscle weakness, or intolerable back pain, call your doctor promptly, Cummins says.

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