Self Treatment of Common Illnesses and Minor Accidents
Many common illnesses and minor accidents can be treated at home without needing to see your Doctor. We hope that you will find the following advice helpful. If you are uncertain as to what to do or are worried, please ring the surgery and ask us for advice or an appointment with your Doctor or Nurse.
Keeping a well stocked medicine cabinet at home can help you treat many minor ailments. Colds, coughs, indigestion and many other minor complaints can all be treated with medicines that are available over the counter.
Your pharmacist can advise on what you might find useful to keep in your medicine cabinet. Always follow the instructions on the medicine label and consult your Doctor if the illness continues or becomes more severe.
Apply large quantities of cold water to the affected area immediately and continue until the pain eases and the skin cools. Any blisters that are present should not be burst and may be covered by a loose, dry dressing.
Take paracetamol for the pain. If the skin is broken or a large area is affected, attend immediately your Accident and Emergency Department for assessment and treatment.
Chickenpox is a mild and common childhood illness that most children catch at some point. It causes a rash of red, itchy spots that turn into fluid-filled blisters. They then crust over to form scabs, which eventually drop off.
Some children have only a few spots, but in others they can cover the entire body. The spots are most likely to appear on the face, ears and scalp, under the arms, on the chest and belly and on the arms and legs. Chickenpox is caused by a virus called the varicella-zoster virus. It’s spread quickly and easily through the coughs and sneezes of someone who is infected.
To prevent spreading the infection, keep children off nursery or school until all the spots have crusted over. Chickenpox is most infectious from one to two days before the rash starts, until all the blisters have crusted over (usually five to six days after the start of the rash).
If your child has chickenpox, try to keep them away from public areas to avoid contact with people who have not had it, especially people who are at risk of serious problems, such as newborn babies, pregnant women and anyone with a weakened immune system (for example, people having cancer treatment or taking steroid tablets).
Treatment: for most children, chickenpox is a mild illness that gets better on its own, but expect your child to feel pretty miserable and irritable while they have it.
Your child is likely to have a fever at least for the first few days of the illness. The spots can be incredibly itchy.
There is no specific treatment for chickenpox, but there are pharmacy remedies which can alleviate symptoms, such as paracetamol to relieve fever and calamine lotion and cooling gels to ease itching. In most children, the blisters crust up and fall off naturally within one to two weeks.
Occasionally children can become more seriously ill with chickenpox. They need to see a Doctor, if the blisters on their skin become infected or if your child has a pain in their chest or has difficulty breathing.
1. Give your child paracetamol (Calpol, Disprol etc) or ibuprofen. Give the maximum dose stated for a child of that age.
2. Dress your child in cool clothes e.g. t-shirt and shorts etc. Much heat is lost through the head, so leave it uncovered. Cool down the room by opening doors and windows.
3. Give your child plenty of cool drinks as fluid is lost with a fever. If they are reluctant to drink, encourage small amounts from a favourite cup.
4. Sponging your child down, particularly the head, with a tepid cloth, will make the child feel better as well as bringing down the temperature. Using tepid water is more effective than cold water.
5. Repeat the dose of paracetamol every four to six hours if necessary. NO MORE THAN FOUR DOSES IN A 24 HOUR PERIOD. You could also give ibuprofen at the dose suitable for the age of your child.
6. If your child does not improve after giving paracetamol and sponging down, or appears particularly ill, call your Doctor. Ill children will always be seen as soon as possible. You will not make your child worse by taking them in a pram or car to the surgery. Sometimes fresh air makes a feverish child feel better.
7. A child with a fever is likely to be restless at night. Offer cool drinks and sponge your child down if they waken.
8. Very rarely, a child under five years will have a convulsion with a high temperature. The child suddenly shakes all over and then becomes very still. If your child does have a convulsion it should subside in less than five minutes. Lie your child on their side and stay with them while it lasts. If there is another adult in the house, ask them to call the Doctor, if not, call the Doctor when the convulsion has stopped.
Colds are caused by viruses and cannot be cured by antibiotics. Various treatments can be of benefit though. Adults should take two paracetamol up to four times daily or ibuprofen three times daily to help lower temperatures and ease aching muscles. If a sore throat is present gargling with soluble aspirin will help. Take plenty of drinks. Children under 16 should not take aspirin and the appropriate dose of paracetamol mixture can be given every 24 hours. Steam inhalations are helpful. Vicks, menthol crystals and Karvol can be used, but not for babies under three months old.
The illness can last up to seven to 10 days. Children have repeated colds and these build up a resistance to infection.
This is a common problem as we get older, since we do not eat so much, not do we take as much exercise. Often drugs prescribed by your Doctor (e.g. water tablets, painkillers like co-codamol) lead to constipation. It doesn’t matter if you don’t go to the toilet every day or even only once or twice a week. It is more important that the motions are not hard. By drinking plenty of fluids and eating fibre e.g. brown bead, bran, vegetables and fruit, most people can manage alright.
Do not take laxatives such as senna on a regular basis. If this is a change to your normal bowel habit – make an appointment to see your Doctor.
Coughs are usually caused by viral infections. There’s no quick way of getting rid of a cough that’s caused by a viral infection. It will usually clear up after your immune system has fought off the virus.They can be eased by inhaling steam from Vicks steam inhaler, menthol crystals or Karvol Decongestant Drops added to hot water. A dry cough may be helped by a cough suppressant from a chemist. Soothing lozenges may help. A troublesome night time cough can be helped by hot drinks prepared in a Thermos flask at bedtime. Cigarette smoke in the house will make a cough worse.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has recommended that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines shouldn’t be given to children under the age of six. Instead, give your child (older than 1 year) a warm drink of lemon and honey or a simple cough syrup that contains glycerol or honey.
If a cough persists or produces blood, or is associated with chest pain or shortness of breath, seek medical advice.
If your cut or graze is bleeding heavily you should stop the bleeding before applying any kind of dressing. Apply pressure to the area using a bandage or a towel.
Some cuts and grazes can be more serious and will require you to go to accident and emergency (A&E) for treatment. It is recommended that you go to A&E if the cut is extensive, gaping or has caused a lot of tissue damage, bleeding heavily or if you cannot stop the bleeding, have severe pain, a cut to the face, numbness near site of wound or possibility of a foreign body in wound.
You may need a tetanus jab (vaccine) if the injury has broken your skin and your tetanus vaccinations aren’t up to date. The UK has a vaccination programme against tetanus. A full course of tetanus vaccination consists of five doses of the vaccine.This should be enough to give you long-term protection from tetanus. However, if you’re not sure how many doses you’ve received, you may need a booster dose after an injury that breaks your skin. If you’ve definitely received five doses of the tetanus vaccine, you are fully vaccinated and don’t need a booster dose.
Cystitis (water infection) is due to an inflammation of the bladder which causes pain on passing water and a feeling that you need to go again straight away. Cystitis is more common in women because women have a short urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body). The urethra’s opening is also located very close to the anus (bottom), which makes it easy for bacteria from the anus to reach the bladder and cause an infection. Cystitis is less common in men. It can be more serious in men because it could be caused by an underlying bladder, prostate infection or an obstruction in the urinary tract.
Cystitis usually passes within a few days, but sometimes may need treatment with antibiotics. Mild cystitis usually clears up within 4-9 days. You can treat it at home by drinking plenty of fluids (around 2 litres every day) and taking painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. More severe cystitis can also cause abdominal pain or fever, and may need treatment with antibiotics. Simple preparations from the chemist can help make the urine less acid and ease the burning pains. If the symptoms do not improve, or you are ill in yourself, develop backache or pass blood, contact your Doctor. Take a urine sample (in a sterilised bottle) with you when you attend. Children and men should always see their GP if they have symptoms of cystitis.
Therefore rest as completely as possible (ideally in bed) and no food should be given (including milk) until there has been no vomiting or diarrhoea for 12 hours then start giving lightly toasted bread or biscuits e.g. Rich Tea biscuits. Continue taking or giving plenty of fluid. Normal food (including milk) should not be resumed until there has been no vomiting or diarrhoea for 24 hours. If there is no improvement in two days or if all or most of the water is being vomited back or if you are worried then please contact the Surgery.
Earache often occurs with a cold as a result of catarrh. It will often be the result of an ear infection. You can use over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat the pain. Children under 16 years of age should not take aspirin. Paracetamol or ibuprofen may be all that is required, but if the painkiller does not work, contact your Doctor. Sudafed can be helpful for catarrh. Placing a warm flannel against the affected ear may also help to relieve the pain. If you or your child has an ear infection, you should avoid getting the affected ear wet.
You should call your Doctor if:
- the earache does not improve within 24-48 hours,
- you or your child has a high temperature (fever) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above or
- there are other symptoms, such as dizziness, a severe headache, or swelling around the ear.
A fever is a high temperature. As a general rule, a temperature of over 37.5°C is a fever. Fever is a feature of many infections such as a cold or flu. Remove excess clothing and sponge the forehead and body with lukewarm water, keep the room cool: 18°C (65°F) is about right (open a window if you need to), using a fan helps too. Take plenty of cool drinks. Take paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin regularly. Children under 16 should not have aspirin. If fever persists after 24-48 hours, especially in the young, old or frail, this may indicate a complication, so you should then see your Doctor.
You should also contact your Doctor if your child:
- is under three months of age and has a temperature of 38°C or above
- is between three and six months of age and has a temperature of 39°C or above
- is over six months and shows other signs of being unwell – for example, they are floppy and drowsy or you are concerned about them
It is unlikely that serious injury will result if the person can remember what happened. Minor head injuries often cause a bump or bruise. As long as the person is conscious (awake), with no deep cuts, there is unlikely to have been any damage to the brain. If your child has sustained a head injury, observe them closely for 48 hours to monitor whether their symptoms change or worsen. If you have sustained a head injury, ask a friend or family member to stay with you for the following 48 hours to keep an eye on you. If your child has a minor head injury, they may cry or be distressed. This is normal and, with attention and reassurance, most children will settle down. However, seek medical assistance if your child continues to be distressed.
However, go to Accident & Emergency (A&E) straight away or if needed, call 999 for an ambulance, if loss of consciousness occurred or if there is vomiting, a seizure or fit, blurred vision, double vision, drowsiness, memory loss, irritable or unusual behaviour, difficulty speaking, an open or bleeding head wound, difficulty in walking or a severe headache.
Insect bites and stings are common and usually cause only minor irritation. However, some stings can be painful and trigger a serious allergic reaction. A cold compress (a flannel or cloth soaked in cold water) is soothing and reduces the swelling. Calamine or antihistamine cream eases soreness and itching. Antihistamine tablets can be obtained from the chemist. if you are in pain or the area is swollen, take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Do not remove bee stings by squeezing the sting, try to ‘scrape’ it away.
See your GP if you have a lot of swelling and blistering, or if there is pus, which indicates an infection.
Call 999 and ask for an ambulance if you experience any of these symptoms following a bite or sting:
- wheezing or difficulty breathing
- nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
- a fast heart rate
- dizziness or feeling faint
- difficulty swallowing
- confusion, anxiety or agitation
If, however, your child is unwell or has other symptoms, especially headache, vomiting, discomfort with bright light or a high temperature, or if you’re worried, contact your Doctor.
Occasionally, a rash can be serious. In the later stages of meningitis a distinctive skin rash (although not everyone will have this) may occur. A blotchy red rash that does not fade or change colour when you place a glass against it. Particularly, if your child appears unwell, then phone 999 immediately for an ambulance.
If you or someone in your family has a sore throat:
1. Avoid food or drink that is too hot as this could irritate your throat.
2. Eat cool, soft food and drink cool or warm liquids.
3. Adults and older children can suck soothing lozenges, ice cubes, ice lollies or sip iced water regularly.
4. Adults can gargle with soluble aspirin before swallowing which can help a lot to ease a sore throat.
5. Regularly gargle with a mouthwash of warm, salty water to reduce any swelling or pain.
6. Avoid smoking and smoky environments.
7. Drink enough fluids, especially if you have a high temperature (fever).
8. Treat an associated fever as outlined above.
Contact your Doctor if it is still worsening after two days, if the temperature is constantly raised above 38C (100.4F) and is not reduced by medication or if there is marked earache. If you are worried seek our advice.
Sprains and strains are a common type of injury that affect muscles and ligaments. Asprain occurs when one or more of your ligaments have been stretched, twisted or torn, usually as a result of excessive force being applied to a joint. A strain occurs when the muscle fibres stretch or tear. They usually occur when the muscle has been stretched beyond its limits.
Immediately apply a cold compress e.g. a pack of frozen peas or crushed ice wrapped in a towel or cloth to take down the swelling. A firm bandage will give support. Rest the affected area and if your leg is affected, raise it above the hip level to reduce swelling. If you can walk on the affected leg, then there is usually nothing broken.
If you have a sprain or strain with a lot of bruising and swelling it may indicate the bone is fractured (broken). Other signs of a fracture can include:
- Lumps and bumps not usually there
- Being unable to bear weight
- Pain or tenderness in a different place – for example, if you have sprained your ankle but also have pain in your leg
If you have the above sign(s) then go to Accident & Emergency (A&E) immediately.
Sunburn is skin damage caused by ultraviolet rays. Too much exposure to sun light can make your skin red and painful, which can later lead to peeling or blistering. Sunblock creams should be used to prevent sunburn. Children, especially, burn easily and care is needed to avoid overexposure.
Treatment for sunburn aims to cool the skin and relieve any pain or symptoms. Applying a cold wet flannel over the area will help cool the skin while moisturising lotions and creams will help to keep it moist. Use paracetamol to ease the discomfort. Moisturisers that contain aloe vera will help to soothe your skin and Calamine lotion can relieve any itching or soreness.
Mild sunburn (redness of skin without blistering) usually gets better 4-7 days after your skin has been exposed to sun light. You should go to Accident and Emergency (A&E) if you have sunburn and you feel faint, dehydrated or have severe blistering, or if a young child or baby has sunburn.
Most women experience occasional bouts of a common yeast infection known as vaginal thrush. It causes itching, irritation and swelling of the vagina and surrounding area, sometimes with a creamy white cottage cheese-like discharge. Thrush is a very common cause of an itchy vaginal discharge in women. Vaginal thrush is fairly harmless but it can be uncomfortable and it can keep coming back, which is known as recurrent thrush. It can be triggered by antibiotic treatment and sometime the ‘Pill’ or pregnancy.
If you recognise your symptoms and/or you’ve had diagnosed vaginal thrush before, you can go directly to a pharmacy to buy anti-thrush medication over the counter. Alternatively your Doctor may be able to leave you a prescription for it, but should it recur or fail to improve after treatment or you have frequent bouts, you should make an appointment to see your GP.