Managing minor winter ailments

Winter conditions can be seriously bad for our health, especially for people aged 65 or older, and people with long-term conditions.

At the first sign of a winter illness, even if it’s just a cough or cold, get advice from your pharmacist, before it gets more serious. 

The NHS has produced We're here to help you stay well this winter, with some important information to help you or a loved one stay well this winter which we have made available on our website.

We hope that older people, carers and families, find it useful. Download a copy of We're here to help you stay well this winter, print out this page to give to someone you know. or visit nhs.uk/staywell

Stay well this winter

Winter conditions can be seriously bad for our health, especially for people aged 65 or older, and people with long-term conditions such as COPD, bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, diabetes or heart or kidney disease.

Being cold can raise the risk of increased blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.

The cold and damp weather, ice, snow and high winds can all aggravate any existing health problems and make us more vulnerable to respiratory winter illnesses. But there are lots of things you can do to stay well this winter.

Feeling unwell? Don’t wait – get advice from your nearest pharmacist

At the first sign of a winter illness, even if it’s just a cough or cold, get advice from your pharmacist, before it gets more serious. Act quickly.

The sooner you get advice from a pharmacist the better. Pharmacists are fully qualified to advise you on the best course of action.

This can be the best and quickest way to help you recover and get back to normal.

If you can’t get to a pharmacist yourself, ask someone to go for you or call your local pharmacy.

Make sure you get your flu jab

The flu virus strikes in winter and it can be far more serious than you think. Flu can lead to serious complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia, and it can be deadly.

That’s why the flu jab is free if you’re aged 65 or over, or if you have a long-term health condition.

If you have young children or grandchildren they may also be eligible for a free flu vaccination.

And if you are the main carer of an older or disabled person you may also be eligible for the free flu jab. Just speak to your GP or pharmacist.

You can also find more information at nhs.uk/getflujab

Also, don’t forget that if you’re aged 65 or over, you are eligible for the pneumococcal vaccine, which will help protect you from pneumococcal diseases such as pneumonia. Ask your GP.

Keep warm

It is important to keep warm in winter – both inside and outdoors. Keeping warm over the winter months can help to prevent colds, flu and more serious health problems such as heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and depression.

Heat your home to at least 18°C (65°F)

You might prefer your main living room to be slightly warmer.

Keep your bedroom window closed on winter nights

Breathing cold air can be bad for your health as it increases the risk of chest infections.

Keep active when you’re indoors

Try not to sit still for more than an hour or so.

Wear several layers of light clothes

Several layers trap warm air better than one bulky layer.

Make sure you’re receiving all the help that you’re entitled to

Learn how to make your home more energy efficient, improve your heating and keep up with your energy bills at gov.uk/phe/keep-warm

And check your heating and cooking appliances are safe

Contact a Gas Safe registered engineer to make sure they’re operating properly. Visit gassaferegister.co.uk

Check your medicine cabinet

Ask your pharmacist what medicines should be in your cabinet to help get you and your family through the winter season.

Many over-the-counter medicines (including paracetamol and ibuprofen) are available to relieve symptoms of common winter ailments, such as colds, sore throat, cough, sinusitis or painful middle ear infection (earache).

So talk to your pharmacist for advice on getting the relief you need.

To manage winter illness symptoms at home:

  • Rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Have at least one hot meal a day to keep your energy levels up
  • Use over-the-counter medications to help give relief.

Prescriptions

Make sure you get your prescription medicines before your pharmacy or GP practice closes for Christmas.

You can also order your repeat prescriptions online. To sign up to GP online services ask at your practice or to find out more visit nhs.uk/GPonlineservices

And, if you’ve been prescribed antibiotics or any other medication, make sure you take them as directed.

Look out for other people

Remember that other people, such as older neighbours, friends and family members, may need a bit of extra help over the winter. There’s a lot you can do to help people who are more frail than you.

Icy pavements and roads can be very slippery and cold weather can stop people from getting out and about. Keep in touch with your friends, neighbours and family and ask if they need any practical help, or if they’re feeling under the weather.

Make sure they’re stocked up with enough food supplies for a few days, in case they can’t go out. If they do need to go out in the cold, encourage them to wear shoes with a good grip and a scarf around the mouth to protect them from the cold air, and to reduce their risk of chest infections.

And make sure they get any prescription medicines before the Christmas holidays start and if bad weather is forecast.

If they need help over the holiday period when the GP practice or pharmacy is closed, call NHS 111 and speak to a call adviser who will be able to direct you to a local service that is open. You can also find information at nhs.uk

More information can also be found on the NHS website at nhs.uk/staywell

Download a copy of We're here to help you stay well this winter or print out this page to give to someone you know.

For more information about staying safe, healthy and warm this winter, read our guides on preparing for severe wintry conditions and flu jab, flu safe.

Get ready for winter

From staying safe, to staying in touch and warding off illness, our guide has a lot of useful tips for staying warm, safe and well this winter.

Download a copy 

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