How do people manage to work with a bad cold?
January 29, 2012 8:54 AM   Subscribe

How do people who have 'mission critical' jobs cope when they have a bad cold?

I suppose the question could be widened to anybody who has a job they have to do: what strategies do people use when they get a cold and have to work? I'm thinking of pilots, astronauts, lawyers on a big case on the first day of a hearing, teachers or professors giving a big lecture. Indeed, a single mother working three jobs paid on an hourly rate and has to get to work or not feed her kids. How would she manage?

When I have a cold, I know I'm going to be probably out of action or working way below optimum for at least one day, and that any work I do get done needs to be rechecked when I'm better as it's probably full of errors. If people can't get out of a job on a given day and they feel horrendous with a cold, what do they do to manage?

What do you do to manage?
posted by stenoboy to Health & Fitness (41 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Pound daytime cold medicine, eat cough drops like mad, imbibe strong, hot tea with lemon and honey whenever possible, and warn co-workers that they might need to check my work.

That's really all that's possible, as far as I know.
posted by batmonkey at 9:03 AM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

My first thought is that, no matter how critical I think my job is, it probably isn't. And it certainly isn't if it means I'm passing this "bad cold" to a lot of other people whose lives it will impact on.

Bottom line, call folks and say "I know the timing is poor, but I really don't want to pass this along to you/customers/students/clients".

The only example you gave which would mean continuing the job even when you are very sick is "astronaut", they have no choice and can not remove themselves from contact with others.
posted by HuronBob at 9:04 AM on January 29, 2012 [11 favorites]

Go to work, feel terrible, come home and go to bed as early as possible. Say 5:30 pm? Get up 6am and repeat. It's not fun.
posted by bquarters at 9:06 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Prevention helps a lot.
As a teacher, I take my vitamin C daily and wash my hands often. Also, if I feel like something is coming on, I try to make sure I get more sleep. As much as I can, I try not to medicate and let the cold run its course. But when I do have somewhere I HAVE to be, I'm all about the medication (dry up the snot, stop the cough) to get me through it. But once that obligation is over, it's back to letting the cold run its course.
posted by NoraCharles at 9:08 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

i won't delude myself that my work is 'mission critical', but i cope with bad colds by not having them, generally. i figured out several years ago what i needed to do to support my immune system (and to avoid exposure, such as never touching my face & washing my hands several times a day), and have only been noticeably sick once in the last 5 years. another thing people do is to essentially "put off" being sick. have you ever noticed how people who are very busy or very focused on their work get sick as soon as they go on vacation? adreneline and willpower can do some pretty amazing things.
posted by facetious at 9:10 AM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

NyQuil to sleep. I hate using it, but it works. Wake up and take DayQuil to keep going.

Eat breakfast, even if I'm not feeling like it, because I know I need the energy. Black tea with sugar - add milk if my stomach is bothering me. Couple more cups in the morning. Lunch, because, like breakfast, I'll need the energy. Usually drink water to stay hydrated. Back to tea in the afternoon. Managing what you eat is really critical. For instance, if I'm sneezing or have a runny nose, I avoid dairy because it makes it worse.

I take Zicam. I don't know if it really works, but it certainly seems to help end colds faster for me.

The few times I've had a stomach bug, I've forced myself to throw up. I really hate doing it, but I find it makes life easier for some time afterwards.

Sleep as much as possible so my body can rest and heal. As I noted above, drug-induced sleep is better than no sleep at all.

I also find that it helps to take more detailed notes when I'm sick. First off, it forces me to focus on what's going on so my notes are accurate and detailed. Second, it helps afterwards when I'm better, but my memory is hazy.

Also, I've noticed that people in similar situations as me tend to do everything they can to avoid getting sick, and to manage even the slightest symptoms to keep things from getting worse. As a result, I think we tend to get less sick than others, but I don't have hard data to back that up.

Lastly, I think my colleagues and I appreciate that sometimes, someone has to be at work while sick as a dog, and we try and make life as easy for them as possible. We get the same in return. It goes a long way to making things more manageable.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:16 AM on January 29, 2012

I pound cold medicine and suffer through. And drink a lot of tea. I also reevaluate criticalness -- surely there are sometimes things I have to do, and I can't just not do them because I don't want to get other people sick (sorry, HuronBob), but sometimes things can be delayed or passed off to other people. The fact that I'm not going to be as efficient or good as normal factors in here.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:16 AM on January 29, 2012

Two answers:

1- People who have actually mission critical jobs have backups who can step in.

2- You can usually stave off cold symptoms to get as much of the work done as possible. Sudafed is great for this. The trick is to give yourself time to heal every day. Get yourself whacked on Sudafed, NSAIDs and caffeine, put in your 8 hours, and then get straight home and decompress. Figuratively and literally- don't keep taking decongestants 24x7 or you'll never heal up.
posted by gjc at 9:18 AM on January 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

Day-Quil and lots of fluids + postpone or cancel anything beyond critical activities. Be kind to yourself several days after your symptoms ease to rebuild your strength. Take Vitamin D3 at preventative levels during cold and flu season... which here is October - April.
posted by summerstorm at 9:20 AM on January 29, 2012

teachers or professors giving a big lecture

Cancel class and stay home. This is never off the table.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:22 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just had this problem on Thursday and Friday! Ripping head cold and 5 hours of seminars to lead for the first meetings of a new course that I'd never instructed before. I was a mess, but instead of worrying about it, I spent my time coming up with contingency plans at all levels of possibility. I found out ahead of time where all my classrooms were, if they were equipped, where the light switches were, etc. I brought tissues and cough drops and water and extra handouts. After I took attendance I mentally picked out a student that I would ask to do a task if I needed to leave the room and empty my head. That sort of thing. This weekend I followed up by email with everyone and re-explained the bits that I know were incoherent ramblings. I made sure to let them know in class that I would do that.

Basically, I set up all the rails for the day at a time when I could be alone to do it and bumble around and blow my nose. When it came time to perform, I just coasted my way down the design. It thoroughly sucked, but I thanked myself for dragging my butt to the task early to get hangups out of the way. Then I made sure I followed through when I felt better.

I think when you're really not up to task, all you can do is over-perform before and after (when you've got some wits and energy), to compensate for the messy middle. It seemed to work.

Also, drink tons of water.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:34 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I taught three class sessions with pneumonia last year. It's a once-a-week 16-week class so it's hard to miss even one class, and the time I teach it's IMPOSSIBLE to get subs. The first two time I begged my students' indulgence, made them back up from the front row, sucked a smoothie for the coughing, and tried not to trigger coughing fits by taking too-deep breaths or talking too loudly. My students were very nice about it. I also turned a couple pieces of my lecture into group work where they found the answers and then shared with the class.

The third week I came in, took attendance, handed a movie to my most responsible student and told him to show it, wrote the assignment on the board, and drove myself straight to the ER. I was also 5 months pregnant and I was coughing myself almost unconscious.

They all actually stayed and watched the movie, and turned in the paper, and I got my movie back.

I really only cancel class if I have such bad bronchitis I can't talk, AND I can't show a movie. (I try to always have one in there, and I make that class modular so I can movie it if necessary.) Otherwise I power through and sound like crap. It would probably be better if I got subs, but they've made getting subs next to impossible even if you don't teach at horrendous times, and they're penalizing us for seeking subs.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:36 AM on January 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

There isn't too much good evidence for megadoses of vitamin C doing anything to prevent or shorten the duration of colds, but there's a growing body of evidence to suggest that zinc lozenges shorten the duration of colds and possibly have some protective effect. For the sore throat, I use pure peppermint oil-- a remedy given to me by an old shapenote singer. The menthol contained therein is a kappa opioid receptor agonist that numbs the pain almost completely. It's the same active ingredient in cough drops, but a much higher dose and faster onset. You can buy little vials from most herbal stores (peppermint oil, not extract); just dab a little on your finger, then run your finger along the outside of your bottom gums.
posted by The White Hat at 9:46 AM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

FWIW, pilots and astronauts are trained, from day one, that you don't fly when you are sick. Period.

A cold actually isn't a trivial thing if you're flying. It can block your Eustachian tubes and lead to debilitatingly painful earblocks if the aircraft depressurizes. It can block your sinuses and, again, incapacitate you with pain if your blocked sinuses contain stratospheric 6 psi air but the cabin pressure is rising to sea-level normal of 15 psi.

For those pilots with the poor judgment to fly with a cold anyway, over-the-counter decongestants are the drug of choice (pills pre-flight, and a bottle of Afrin on-hand for in-flight emergencies). Not recommended.

While the specific aerospace physiology reasons that pilots don't fly sick may not necessarily apply to earthbound jobs, the general safety principle that "if it's mission critical, you've got to be healthy to do it" does.
posted by Dimpy at 9:48 AM on January 29, 2012 [12 favorites]

1/ Once you do have a nasty cold - be sure to be well stocked up on tissues, medication and liquids wherever you go. Be sure to eat regularly and ask people to stay as far away from you as possible. That's how I cope. Sleep as much as possible. But really, the only moderately good place to work if you're really ill and have to work is from home. I get to sleep the time it would take to get ready and to travel to work, I wrap up on the sofa in my PJs and a fleece, with tissues, medication and drinks and snacks placed strategically, get out the laptop and work. Nobody else gets sick, nobody else has to put up with your coughing and sneezing and runny nose, you can take breaks and go straight back to bed when you're done thus maximising sleep.

2/ To minimise sickness in the first place strengthen your immune system, wash your hands frequently etc. The busier you are the more important this becomes.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:51 AM on January 29, 2012

Every few weeks, I have a gig in which replacing me would be not impossible, but awkward. And as a medical actor/trainer, I often have to do my best to not even look like I have a cold, lest my students get confused. My best tip is to get a few good pairs of comfortable leather gloves and wear them whenever it's at all reasonable to do so. I've gotten many fewer winter colds since I started keeping my gloves on while I'm on the bus.
posted by sculpin at 10:05 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Framing the problem is 99 percent of this.

I worked full-time and carried a full load of college classes every single semester. That's not terribly significant in the great scheme of things.

But one of my classmates was thunderstruck to hear that. "How do you do that?" she said, as if, in her mind, what I told her was flatly impossible. "It's just determination," I said.

How do you do it? You do it by first realizing it's not impossible to do. Then you toughen the fuck up and do it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:07 AM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, more answering less fighting please.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:28 AM on January 29, 2012

The OP asks:
If people can't get out of a job on a given day and they feel horrendous with a cold, what do they do to manage?

What do you do to manage?

In my current job, I ask my assistant to fill in for me. In past cubicle or retail jobs, I simply called in sick. I refuse to work while ill.
posted by BostonTerrier at 10:33 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Depends. First, good prevention habits.

Ideally everyone who even might be sick would stay home, but it doesn't always work out like that.

If you think you really have to work, consciously make this decision: am I too sick to function safely, or am I just uncomfortable? If you decide that you're just uncomfortable, then explicitly telling yourself that will help you "toughen the F up" and get through it.

If you're really falling asleep and getting light headed in front of an ATC console or something, pull the plug and don't feel bad about it.

Part of being selected for a critical job is having the forward-planning skills to have backups plans and a network of people who can cover in a pinch. Of course, you don't really interview for single mom with three jobs.

You know the old saying "accept the things I cannot change...?" That. Cough drops, theraflu, and positive thinking.
posted by ctmf at 10:42 AM on January 29, 2012

My work as an attorney is not mission-critical in the world-historical sense, but it is mission-critical to my individual clients.

The occasions when I feel terrible, I find I'm able to power through it well enough to get the job done. I don't know if it's adrenaline or focus on the work, but I've noticed that I usually don't realize how bad I feel until I'm out of the big event (trial, hearing, etc.), safely at home or at the office, and that's when the misery hits. The body seems to have inner reserves it can tap in mission-critical situations to stave off the pain and discomfort. It's as if the body knows not to fail you during a serious, stressful crunch time.

For really big trials, if an attorney was a major player and simply unable to proceed, the court would grant a continuance. Or it might postpone the trial from day to day until the attorney was well enough to proceed. Cases get continued all the time; there is no case too important to get continued, and in fact if a court were to force an attorney who was very ill to do the trial anyway, it would be a ground for appeal because it would arguably be denying their client to right to effective counsel.
posted by jayder at 10:44 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are those of us for whom the luxury of a day off work is not possible. If I don't work, we don't eat, full stop. Much as I wish this were not so, it is. I work retail, and I'm a manager, and for the longest time I was the breadwinner in our little family.

My prevention plan for winter colds is a multivitamin once a day, with an iron booster and a zinc-Vit. ECA immunity booster under medical supervision (my diet is crap and I have poor uptake.) I also take the sort of iron that has a b-group in it too. Again, under supervision. I drink insane amounts of water through the day at room temperature, sometimes with a little salt added to aide retention, as my diet is practically salt free. Green tea seemed to help wonderfully too this year - I found a really lovely Buddha Tears, no honey. Also getting lots of citrus, mostly in the form of lemon squash.

Hand washing in hot soapy water before eating, touching my face only through tissue, and washing my hands both before and after cashup. Money is filthy.

During the worst of it I sustain myself on cold and flu meds, black tea with honey and lemon, Vicks drops and eucalyptus oil on my pilowcase to sleep. Periodic dosings with energy drinks, mostly for the b groups, taurine and of course caffeine. Eating the garlickiest motherfucking soups ever invented. Garlic and potato and leek, that sort of thing. So much sleep. All the sleep. Just...sleep. When you get a chance, just rest. No TV or PC. Just sleep. Breathing down so I don't pass it on too much, using a lot of methylated spirits to disinfect counters, phones, keyboards, you name it - everything I can think of at the end of my shift. The constant reminder that this too shall pass.
posted by Jilder at 10:49 AM on January 29, 2012

1- People who have actually mission critical jobs have backups who can step in.

This is not always true. In my industry there are no backups for any of the roles. The option for putting anything off for another day when you are racing, testing or getting ready for either of these time constraints is simply non-existent. I'd say only the fancy expensive industries (aviation or aerospace or similar) have extra capacity to the point that you can drop a person and have no impact at all.

You do it by first realizing it's not impossible to do. Then you toughen the fuck up and do it.

This. Suck it up, be extra careful, and get on with it. I have worked through cracked ribs, Flu, heavy colds, fevers, getting hit by a car (low speed, but it hurt!), trench foot (for three days), no sleep... everything. Working usually involves 12-16 hour days, on your feet, rushing around for most of it, for reference. People around you have to take up some of the slack as much as they can, but there is a decent proportion of 'only you can do it' in this industry and many others.

For colds and fu (which I have historically been prone to) is just a case of no messing around - the strongest non-drowsy flu medication (even for colds) you can stand and take it at maybe 3/4 the interval they say and sleep when you can. Early nights. Basically, focus purely on being focussed on work. You just.... work through it. It's not that hard, but it kind of sucks.
posted by Brockles at 10:57 AM on January 29, 2012

Human beings don't have 100% uptime.

If the job really is mission critical, it better be designed with that fact of life in mind.

For example, that's what co-pilots are for.
posted by philipy at 11:04 AM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

As a mother, I go to work when I am sick because it is much less stressful at work and at least I will get a fifteen minute break to collapse in a chair. try being incredibily ill and still having to prioritise caring for your equally ill children. Plus I need to save any sick days in order to care for ill members of my family (my husband has a chronic illness and usually if one child gets sick then the other two do too). As others have said, you just suck it up. I tend to be less gregarious and "up" when I am sick and take longer to read the legal documents I need to interpret and sign. Not the best, but what can I do?

Is it just colds you are interested in? Because to me they are so minor I would never take time off for them. Like Brockles, I have worked through things that should I should have been hospitalised for if I had the luxury of affording to take the time off; one of the hardest was while I was miscarrying painfully. Not all workplaces look at the larger picture of an employees long term health and the positive impact that has on the business and instead focus on the immediate crisis of each day.
posted by saucysault at 11:57 AM on January 29, 2012

I worked for a few years in a small business where my job (receptionist) would not usually be "mission critical" but where it actually was--no backups, nobody else with a key to get in the door in the morning. I also was raised never to call in sick--"Just try the morning," my mom would say when I was feeling ill as a kid, "you can stay home from school for the afternoon if you still aren't feeling well."

The strategy: NyQuil or some other sleep-aiding medication at night, sleep is the most important thing. During the day, heaps of lemon tea and green tea, make sure you drink lots of fluids in general. Keep eating like normal so you will have some level of energy. Cough drops and/or cough syrup if that's a symptom. Hand sanitizer and good sneezing manners (sneeze into your elbow, not your hand) to keep from passing your cold on to others. Clean everything you touch at the end of the day.

I tend to push it less with the flu than with colds--I get the flu less often and it tends to hit me harder. But if I must go to work, I drink Gatorade or another sports drink with electrolytes and salt. It's easy enough to keep down in small quantities even if you are feeling sick to your stomach, and will keep you going. Otherwise, same as for a cold.

And don't expect 100% performance from yourself. Determination and sucking it up is important, but if you know you're cross-eyed over a spreadsheet or whatever, you save that for when you're better and just get the essentials done.
posted by snorkmaiden at 12:57 PM on January 29, 2012

Yeah, like Jilder says, sometimes there's really no choice: even though technically I get sick leave, trying to actually use it is a PITA. Like Brockles, in my industry there's no backup --- my main job is as a theater projectionist: I work alone --- so I just suck it up and tough it out.

Basic avoidance is the first step: handwashing, healthy eating, lots of sleep etc. Then there's mitigation: that's where everyone's mom's "drink lots of fluids!" comes in, as well as the cough medicines and so on. Finally, there's just plain old me being a stubborn, stubborn person, and maybe it also helps that I spent my childhood fighting severe asthma: compared to that, a measley little common cold is nothing.
posted by easily confused at 1:07 PM on January 29, 2012

Like Eyebrows McGee, it's all about prep for me. If I know I'm getting sick, I rearrange as much as my task list as possible to allow me a day or two of less-critical or difficult work. (When I was a teacher, this often meant reworking the lesson plan in such a way that kids would lead activities instead, increasing reading time, giving a review assignment that would require so much of my help, etc. because my students just would not do ANY work if a sub was in the room.)

Now as a contractor, I don't get sick days at all. So when I've got a really bad case of whatever and can't think but have a big presentation or event, it's all about damage control: as much sleep as possible prior, all prep work done prior, lots of liquids, whatever the appropriate medicine is, and then psyche myself up to get the adrenaline going. As jayder said, once you get focused on the task at hand, it's easier to ignore the symptoms (even if foggy thinking is one of them). Clear your weekend or whenever your next scheduled day off is, and plan to collapse then.
posted by smirkette at 1:36 PM on January 29, 2012

I don't know if I'm Important in the way that you're meaning but basically when I have to function even though I am technically barely able: enough drugs of varying types in order to feel as little pain as possible and gross others out as little as possible so that I can trudge through the day like a zombie thinking pretty much non-stop about how great it's going to be to go home and go to bed.

But most of the time, I'm pretty unapologetic about calling in sick, although I almost always check email for anything critical and forward or defer if necessary--it's better to say 'can we talk about this next Tuesday' than to not respond at all, from my standpoint. I think I'd have to be hospitalized or something to not check email at all.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:02 PM on January 29, 2012

The "don't touch your face" thing is important. When I was a restaurant manager, I swear I spent 10% of my time breaking people of this habit. It is pervasive.

Also, humidity. Cold dry air is bad enough, but your nose has temperature sensors in it and will start running when its cold, mitigating this somewhat. But when you take that cold dry air and warm it up, it wants to suck moisture up out of everything. Dry mucosal membranes give no barrier to the viruses entering your nose, and they get right in there in no time.

Other helpful mitigation tips: spicy food for dinner (after work) to really get the sinuses flowing and flush out all the badness. If it's a chest cold and you can't hork up the loogies, take some Mucinex. If that doesn't help, you've got inflammation and need NSAIDs or a doctor for a bronchodilator.
posted by gjc at 2:04 PM on January 29, 2012


They consult with doctors, take meds and continue working. If it's bad, they might be told to cut back on their workload or to rest. The remaining tasks will be juggled to see what it's important and can be saved.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:08 PM on January 29, 2012

I read a diary by a server at a busy restaurant once, and the answer involved drugs I'd rather not take. I also once read a study that found people in certain jobs just seemed to have better immune systems and rarely got sick. Self-selection, I guess.
posted by wintersweet at 3:24 PM on January 29, 2012

Members of the military and disaster aid workers get sick - colds and worse. The MREs and water cases still have to be moved. As has been said in the past, "Press on, undaunted." Any kind of meds that lessen the symptoms are invaluable.
posted by X4ster at 3:43 PM on January 29, 2012

Generic version of Alka-Seltzer cold. I can cancel clients, but the resulting backlog is more of a nightmare than sucking it up and going in to work. I do let clients know that I am under the weather, but it's amazing the number of people who would rather keep their therapy appointment even with someone who is sick. (Don't jump on me; this is free to clients and I have enough sick days so I would get paid whether or not I came to work.) I also drink hot tea and go straight home to bed after work. After years of working retail and being in sales management I'm used to having to work sick.
On the flip side, I've also noticed that being sick generally doesn't keep my clients from keeping their appointments, so it does work both ways. I wash my hands frequently and wipe down the chairs & doorknob with sanitizer.
posted by sorrygottago at 3:53 PM on January 29, 2012

My job is not and never has been mission critical, but my university damn well seems to think so. Cancelling classes is unheard of. And the department is small and diverse enough that there really aren't substitutes available. Plus if you are casual (adjunct), as I have been in the past, you don't get paid if you don't teach (which means it's sad for you if your class falls on a public holiday). The one time I cancelled class was the day after my father's suicide attempt, when I had to fly overseas to see him. But my dept head told me it was "highly irregular" and I should be sure to be back by Thursday for the next class. And he "hoped it didn't affect my student evaluations".

Anyway, for something like a cold, I take every medicine known to man, let as much other stuff slide as possible (grading, admin, preparation for future lectures all just gets put off until the last possible minute to give myself a few days of lighter work). I try to sleep as much as possible when I don't have to be in class - usually I can manage 6pm to 10am when I'm sick. And I do small group activities, a quiz, or a discussion where I don't have to talk much if that fits with syllabus at all.

Also, I had a terrible cold/flu on my freaking wedding day. The doctor gave me steroids, weirdly enough. They made me feel quite excellent.
posted by lollusc at 4:59 PM on January 29, 2012

Colds are pretty much going to run their course no matter what you do and, for me, lying around at home while feeling sick would be torture. I take Codral Original Formula (the new formula does nothing for me), that contains pseudoephedrine and is increasingly hard to get hold of, as so many pharmacies refuse to stock it because it's an attractive target for burglaries. I don't use the day/night version, as I don't like taking the drugs 24/7, so make sure I'm in bed and asleep before the last tablet I take during the day wears off. Apart from a dry mouth (which encourages me to drink more fluid - possibly a positive side effect), it leaves me feeling 90% well and able to tackle whatever the day throws at me. Generally, my approach to sickness is to ignore it and press on regardless. Probably not the smartest approach, but that's what I do. I figure that refusing to believe I'm sick and keeping active helps my body fight the invader.
posted by dg at 5:45 PM on January 29, 2012

From when I worked in a lab:
Pseudoephedrine-style cold and sinus meds. Sometimes just caffeine.
An ability to know which work things to do and which work things not to attempt (expensive = no, splitting cells = yes; lots of detailed reaction set up = no; preparing reagents = yes).

Choose the repetitive boring tasks that require no thinking.

An ability to know who I could ask for help and get it.

Lots of hand washing/spraying down of things I touched.

Showing up exactly when needed and leaving when done.

At the risk of TMI: I once spent a night with a lower gastrointestinal horror finishing a western blot. Five minute washes go well with this kind of illness. Migraines with aura and PCR don't mix.

truthfully, knowing your limitations is extremely important. I learned the hard way a lot. I also learned that good documentation and organization can let you hand your stuff off to someone else.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:02 PM on January 29, 2012

Pseudoephedrine for the runny nose. Antihistamines for the itchy, sneezy nose. Expectorant and cough suppresant for the chest cough. Analgesic for the headaches.

Forget Vitamin C, echinacea, homeopathy, etc. Modern pharmaceuticals all the way, baby!!
posted by wutangclan at 8:14 PM on January 29, 2012

I asked a similar question two years ago.

Here's how it worked out for me: I now travel to about 20 countries a year, 120+ days on the road a year. I had an appalling first year, I got sinus infections and colds every 6 weeks or so, and flew to Lebanon with a fever so high I should not have boarded the plane. I fainted three times during meetings on that trip. Towards the end of that year, in Sweden I was so ill with what was probably walking Pneumonia that I had to go to hospital.

It sucked. It sucked really really bad. In the time since, I've put a lot of effort into taking up running, some yoga, healthier habits, reducing stress and it is working. When I fall off the wagon it shows: pinched nerves, migraines, more frequent colds.

Prevention is key so that if you do get ill and still have to show up, hopefully it won't be so severe.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:19 AM on January 30, 2012

A couple of ibuprofen and a whole lot of Ricola honey-herb cough suppressant/throat drops (these are in the drug aisle at my grocery store and are pretty awesome, especially given that they're basically candy). And then I defer anything that requires the best me to my coworkers and focus on I-could-do-this-in-my-sleep stuff and still get less of it done than on a good day. (I'm not even remotely important, but I do have this funny fondness for getting paid.)
posted by anaelith at 2:16 PM on January 30, 2012

Specific, targeted, aggressive treatment the symptoms with drugs. IANAD.

Fever/headache: You can alternate tylenol and aspirin every two hours, which lets you get more drugs in your system and has some synergistic effects.

Stuffy nose: sudafed. Not the new stuff you can get on the shelf. Go to your pharmacist. If desperate you can use Afirin, but beware the rebound effect.

Cough: Find a tablet version with dextromethorphan and maybe guaifenesin. Any other drug will interfere with your other targeted regimens. Personally, I sometimes have to take a bunch of these to get the desired effect.
posted by jefftang at 2:41 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

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