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Managing minor winter ailments

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.

We hope that people with concerns about winter ailments, carers and families, find this guide useful. 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 visit nhs.uk/staywell

Stay well this winter

If you’re worried about your health, don’t delay, your NHS wants to see you – help us help you get the care you need 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.

Suspect you have COVID-19?

If you have any of the main symptoms of COVID-19 it’s important you get tested as soon as possible:

  • a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal

If you have any of the main symptoms of COVID-19, even if they’re mild:

  • get a PCR test (test that is sent to a lab) as soon as possible to check if you have COVID-19

You can apply for a test online via nhs.uk/coronavirus, or by calling 119. If you have difficulties communicating or hearing, the service is available by textphone on 18001 119 and the NHS 119 British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter service at signvideo.co.uk/nhs119

If you are getting a test because you have symptoms, you must stay at home until you get your result. Anyone in your support bubble who hasn’t received both vaccinations must also stay at home.

If you need medical advice about your symptoms, use the NHS 111 online COVID-19 service 111.nhs.uk/covid-19, or call 111 if you can’t get online.

Feeling unwell and it’s not COVID-19 symptoms?

For minor health concerns, your local pharmacy team can help. If you can’t get to a pharmacy yourself, ask someone to go for you or call them.

Don’t delay, the sooner you get advice, the better. For urgent health concerns, you can contact NHS 111 by phone or online.

GP practices offer remote consultations online or by phone. If you need a face-to-face appointment, they will tell you what to do.

If you need medical help fast or think you need to go to an Emergency Department (A&E), are worried about your symptoms or you’re not sure what to do, go straight to NHS 111, call or visit 111.nhs.uk

COVID-19 booster vaccinations

The COVID-19 booster programme is the rollout of an additional vaccine dose to people who have previously received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. It will ensure continued protection for those most at risk.

Booster vaccinations will be given no earlier than six months after completion of the first course of vaccination. We strongly recommend you have the booster to ensure you have maximum protection ahead of the winter months.

The NHS will invite eligible people to book their booster vaccine when it is their turn. For more information visit www.nhs.uk/covid-vaccination

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.

Just speak to your GP practice or pharmacist. You can also find more information at www.nhs.uk/fluvaccine

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

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

There are grants, benefits and sources of advice available to make your home more energy efficient, improve your heating or help with bills. Visit simpleenergyadvice.org.uk and gov.uk/browse/benefits/heating for further information

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).

Your pharmacist can help if you need any advice.

To manage winter illness symptoms at home, you should rest, drink plenty of fluids, have at least one hot meal a day to keep your energy levels up and use over-the-counter medications to help give relief.

For more information search ‘medicine cabinet’ on nhs.uk

Handwashing

Washing your hands with soap and water is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself and others from illnesses such as food poisoning, diarrhoea, flu and COVID-19.

Wash your hands thoroughly for the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice (around 20 seconds).

You should wash your hands:

  • once you get home, or into work
  • after using the toilet or changing a nappy
  • before and after handling raw foods like meat and vegetables
  • before eating or handling food
  • after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing
  • before and after treating a cut or wound
  • after touching animals, including pets, their food and after cleaning their cages

Washing your hands properly removes dirt, viruses and bacteria to stop them spreading to other people and objects.

If you do not have immediate access to soap and water then use alcohol-based handrub.

For more information go to nhs.uk/handwashing

Prescriptions

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

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

Don’t go to a pharmacy if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or are self-isolating. You can order prescriptions via GP or pharmacy websites and apps or by calling them. Ask a friend, relative or volunteer to collect medicines for you.

You can also order your repeat prescriptions via the NHS App, as well as make GP appointments. For more information visit nhs.uk/nhsapp

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 or they’re not sure what to do, NHS 111 can help. The service is available online at 111.nhs.uk and also by phone. By answering questions about their health problem they will be told what to do and where to go.

NHS Volunteer Responders

NHS Volunteer Responders offer help to people who are self-isolating because they have COVID-19, or because they are avoiding public places because of this virus. If you don’t have other support you can get help for a four-week period to collect your shopping and prescriptions or to top up your energy meter (please note that you will need to pay for the shopping and energy credit). You can also arrange for a volunteer to ring up for a friendly chat. If you need help call 0808 196 3646.

Six things we recommend you do:

  • Make sure you get your flu vaccination.
  • Come forward for your COVID-19 booster when offered.
  • Keep your home at 18°C (65°F) or higher if you can.
  • Take advantage of financial schemes and discounts to help you pay for heating.
  • Contact NHS 111 online or by phone if you are worried about any symptoms.
  • Look out for other people who may need a bit of extra help over the winter.

For more infomation about staying safe, healthy and warm during the winter months, read our guides on preparing for severe wintry conditions and the flu vaccination.
We're here to help you stay well this winter cover

Please exercise your common sense when considering this guide and whether to take any of the steps that may be suggested in it. Whilst we have taken reasonable care to ensure that any factual information is accurate and complete, most of the information in this guide is based on our views and opinions (and sometimes the views and opinions of the people or organisations we work with). As a result, we cannot make any promises about the accuracy or the completeness of the information and we don’t accept any responsibility for the results of your reliance on it.