5 Things to Do When You're Sick

Life goes on when you're sick. But if you have cold symptoms, there are some things worth skipping, as well as "to dos" that can help you get better. Your body needs rest to recover. And while it's important to focus on your health, you should also be sure you're doing all you can to keep those around you from catching what you have.

These five tips will help you figure out what you should do when you're sick—and what can wait until you're on the mend.

Understand When to Call a Healthcare Provider

Doctor talking to patient in exam room

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Sometimes it's fine to rest and let your cold symptoms pass. Other times, it's a better idea to contact your healthcare provider. Some symptoms worth calling your healthcare provider about include:

  • Significant abdominal pain that's persisted for 24 to 48 hours
  • A headache accompanied by fever, a stiff neck, or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • A sore throat that makes swallowing difficult
  • Painful coughing or chest tightness when you breathe
  • A fever over 100.4 degrees F accompanied by congestion

Spare Your Coworkers and Call Out

Sick woman laying on sofa talking on telephone

Tom Merton / Getty Images 

It can be tough to know when to call in sick. But if you have these symptoms, it's better for you and your coworkers if you stay home and rest:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Contagious rash
  • Exhaustion

Don't Be Afraid to Skip Your Workout

man working out holding head

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Exercise is important, but there are times when it could do more harm than good—both for you and those around you. If you have a fever, skip exercise until it breaks.

If you have a few cold symptoms but otherwise feel OK, you may be able to get some light exercise in if you feel inclined, but it's best to avoid the gym so you don't spread your illness to those around you. Always listen to your body and remember that rest is important, too.

Save the ER for Emergencies

Arrow pointing to emergency department

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A lot of people go to the emergency room when they have the flu, even though they don't really need to be there. Although influenza makes you feel terrible, chances are good that it's not a true emergency.

The following are signs and symptoms that should prompt a trip to the hospital:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or severe abdominal pain
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Confusion
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Severe vomiting or vomiting that won't stop
  • Not urinating
  • Fever or cough that worsens or comes back after improving

If you're not experiencing these, but are just feeling miserable, try self-care strategies and see your healthcare provider if your symptoms persist. Avoiding the ER unless you need it helps save resources, but it also saves you from exposure more other germs.

Discuss Delaying Your Flu Shot

Flu shot sign

patty_c / E + / Getty Images

It's important to get a flu shot every year, but you may want to wait until you're healthy. In some cases, getting vaccinated while you're sick could make recovering from your illness take longer.

Talk with your healthcare provider about your symptoms before getting vaccinated. If nothing else, getting a flu shot assists with herd immunity, which can prevent others with compromised immune systems from getting the flu.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Morken T, Haukenes I, Magnussen LH. Attending work or not when sick - what makes the decision? A qualitative study among car mechanics. BMC Public Health. 2012;12:813. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-813

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Additional Reading

By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.