What’s worse than a cold? A summer cold? And what’s worse than a summer cold? Man flu. And what’s worse than man flu? Nothing, if you ask men. But there are plenty of common illnesses, diseases, disorders, and complaints that have the capacity to knock you for a loop. They may sound silly, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be serious.
We look at three common illnesses that can be more taxing on your body than you think.
We’ve all had it. In fact, we’ve all had it several times, and it’s horrible. Aside from the fact that it’s (literally) draining, it’s also a little embarrassing. No one likes to tell their boss that they have to stay home because they can’t be more than 10 feet from the nearest loo. The fact that the condition comes with sound effects and gases noxious enough to be used in war doesn’t help.
Diarrhoea can be mild (acute) or it can be chronic. Mild diarrhoea is usually caused by a virus, bacteria (in food), or a parasite. But, as we know, it’s also brought about by overindulgence in food and drink. It’ can also be a side effect of certain types of medication.
Usually, over-the-counter (OTC) meds will take care of the problem within a day or two. You just have to make sure you drink plenty of liquid to stay hydrated, and stick to plain food for a while.
If your diarrhoea lasts more than four or five days you should see a doctor. You could have gastroenteritis, which may require more potent medication and sometimes even hospitalization because you could be severely dehydrated. It could also be chronic diarrhoea, which could indicate irritable bowel syndrome or something far more serious, like bowel cancer.
A fever isn’t really an illness. According to New Zealand’s Ministry of Health, it’s a normal response to an infection (viral or bacterial), but that doesn’t make it any easier to bear. You know the feeling, your cheeks are hot and flushed, you’re light-headed, you’ve got a headache, and you don’t have the strength to do anymore more than mews like a kitten.
It’s important not to underestimate a fever, because, according to the ministry, some serious illnesses are accompanied by mild fevers. On the other hand, you don’t want to go tearing to the doctor immediately either because some high fevers are the result of very minor infections.
According to the ministry, a fever between 39°C and 40°C is enough to make you too sick for work (that’s 2 – 3 degrees higher than normal). If your fever is over 40°C or won’t break after three days, and is accompanied by other scary symptoms, like shortness of breath, excessive sweating, vomiting, and delirium, then get yourself to a doctor.
Otherwise, treat it with some common sense: drink those fluids, sleep, don’t bundle yourself up (don’t try sweating it out, in other words), and try some over-the-counter meds if necessary.
The poor maligned headache. It’s such an easy excuse and people use it for everything. It’s so overused that it’s not taken seriously anymore. Even if you’ve got a blinder and are about to pass out from pain, you know that if you tell your boss you need to go home she’ll wonder why you can’t take an aspirin and suck it up.
The thing about headaches is that there are different kinds and some just don’t respond to OTC medication. There are also different causes or triggers, and sometimes being at work will genuinely make the headache worse. For example, a construction worker with a migraine that is triggered by noise and bright light will not only be in severe pain, but will also be a danger on the job. Migraines can be so severe that regular OTC pain killers won’t help. Sufferers may have to go to their doctors to get prescription medication or even injections for the pain.
Tension headaches and sinus headaches are fairly common and usually respond well to OTC medication. But they don’t always. Sometimes the only thing that helps is a two-hour nap in a dark room (and sometimes the only thing that helps is 24 hours of deep sleep). It would be nice if offices could provide quiet rooms for just that purpose, but the reality is that most people do as their bosses would have them do and take a handful of aspirin and suck it up. But that doesn’t mean they should have to.
As common as headaches are, they could also be a warning sign of something more serious. If you’ve had a headache for more than five days, or if your headache is accompanied by vomiting, fever, hallucinations, loss of memory, or confusion, see your doctor.
The bottom line is that even common illnesses can be severe, and sometimes they can be symptomatic of more serious diseases. Self-diagnosis will only get you so far before you need to recognise that you need help from a qualified medical professional. They’ve spent years ensuring they have the further education and training necessary to keep healthy, so why not let them put all that knowledge to good use?
Jemima Winslow is genetically incapable of getting man flu, so she can’t testify to its severity, but she does get migraines and occasionally braves judgement by daring to call in sick.