Caring For Yourself

This part of the website will give you the information you need to deal with common minor health problems yourself, helping you to have greater control over your health.

Caring for yourself means keeping fit and healthy, knowing how to take medicines, treat common minor ailments and seek help when you need it. There are many minor conditions that can be treated at home with self-care methods and over-the-counter medicines: click on the subject headings below to find out more about the most common minor ailments and how you can manage them at home.

You can also be prepared for most common ailments by keeping a well-stocked medicine cabinet at home.

If you have a long-term health condition or you care for someone who does, EPP Cymru provides a range of self-management courses and workshops which you may find helpful.

Our Health Information Specialists can help answer any general health information enquiries you may have - submit your health information question and receive a reply within 3 working days. Please note that this service is not recommended if you or someone else is experiencing symptoms of any kind. If you or someone else is feeling ill you should contact your GP or NHS Direct Wales on 0845 46 47.

Common cold

A cold is a mild viral infection of the nose, throat, sinuses and upper airways. It can cause a number of symptoms which include a runny nose, cough and a sore throat. A common cold usually gets better by itself without any treatment.

In most cases of a common cold you can treat the symptoms by using a number of self-care techniques, these include:-

  • Drinking plenty of fluids - this will replace any fluids you may have lost due to sweating and having a runny nose.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Eat healthy - a low-fat, high fibre diet is recommended, including plenty of fresh fish and vegetables.

 There are a few remedies you can also try using which may relieve your symptoms

  • Steam Inhalation - Sit with your head over a bowl of hot water, place a towel over your head, close your eyes and breathe deeply (this is not advised for children due to the risk of scalding, instead a child may benefit from sitting in a hot, steamy bathroom).
  • Gargling - Gargling with salt water can sometimes help a sore throat and nasal congestion.
  • Vapour Rubs - Can help to soothe the symptoms of a cold in babies and young children. Apply to the chest and back. Don't apply it to their nostrils because the cold causes pain and breathing difficulties.
  • Menthol Sweets - Some people find that sucking menthol sweets can help the symptoms of a sore throat.
  • Nasal Saline Drops - Can help relieve the symptoms of nasal congestion in babies and young children. These are available from most pharmacies.
  • Painkillers - Paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin can help to reduce a fever.
  • Zinc Supplements - Taking zinc syrup, tablets or lozenges may be an effective treatment for the common cold.

For self-assessment and advice if you have cold symptoms use our symptom checker.

More information on the common cold.

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Headaches

A headache is a pain or discomfort in the head or neck, and is an extremely common symptom. This section focuses on tension-type headaches, these are headaches felt as a constant ache that affects both sides of the head. There is also tightening of the neck muscles and a feeling of pressure behind the eyes. Tension-type headaches are more frequent in women than men. These usually last for one to six hours, but some people may have more persistent headaches that last for several days.

Tension-type headaches can usually be soothed by relaxation techniques, or using over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, which should be taken at the time of the headache. Relaxation techniques include:-

  • Applying a hot flannel to your forehead or neck.
  • Exercise, yoga or relaxation exercises.
  • Massaging your shoulders and neck.

If you get recurring headaches it may be useful to keep a diary which could help determine a pattern of triggers. Avoidance of these triggers may reduce the number of headaches. Triggers may include:-

  • Certain foods
  • Hunger
  • Eye-strain
  • Poor posture
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Anger

More information on headaches.

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Period Pain

The majority of women experience some period pain during their lifetime. The pain caused by menstruation can be felt in your lower abdominal area, but can also spread to your back and thighs. Period pain can usually be treated at home. However, if your period pain is intense, you may have to visit your GP.

There are a number of ways you can treat your painful periods at home. Although you may not be able to treat your pain completely, these measures may help to ease, or reduce it.

  • Exercise - although you may not want to exercise whilst you are experiencing period pain, keeping active can help to reduce pain. Try some gentle swimming, walking or cycling.
  • Heat - applying heat to your abdomen can help ease the pain.
  • Warm bath or shower - taking a bath or shower can help to relieve the pain whilst also helping you to relax.
  • Massage - light circular massage around your lower abdomen may help to reduce pain.
  • Relaxation techniques - such as yoga or pilates to help distract you from feelings of pain and discomfort.

More information on painful periods.

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Allergies

Most substances that cause allergies are not harmful and have no affect on people who are not allergic. Any substance that triggers an allergic reaction is called an allergen. Some of the most common allergens include pollen, house dust mites, mould and pets. Less common allergens include nuts, fruit and latex.

The best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid the allergen that causes it. This is not always easy. Allergens such as dust mites or fungal spores can be hard to spot and can breed in even the cleanest house. Below is some practical advice that should help you to avoid the most common allergens.

House dust mites

One of the biggest causes of allergens are dust mites. Dust mites are microscopic insects that breed in household dust. Below are a number of ways that you can limit the amount of mites in the house:-

  • Choose wood or hard vinyl coverings instead of a carpet.
  • Fit roller blinds that can be easily wiped clean.
  • Clean cushions, soft toys, curtains and upholstered furniture regularly.
  • Use synthetic pillows and acrylic duvets instead of woollen blankets or feather bedding.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner fitted with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air).
  • Wipe surfaces with a damp, clean cloth, as dry dusting can spread allergens further.
Pets

It is not the pet fur that causes an allergic reaction, it is exposure to flakes of their dead skin, saliva and dried urine. If you cannot permanently remove a pet from the house, you may find the following tips useful:-

  • Keep pets outside as much as possible, or limit them to one room.
  • Do not allow pets in bedrooms.
  • Wash pets at least once a fortnight.
  • Groom dogs regularly outside.
  • Wash all bedding and soft furnishings on which a pet has laid.
Mould Spores

Moulds can grow on any decaying matter, both inside and outside the house. The moulds themselves are not allergens but the spores they release are. Spores are released when there is a sudden rise in temperature in a moist environment, such as when central heating is turned on in a damp house, or someone dries wet clothes next to a fireplace.

Some ways to prevent mould spores are outlined below:-

  • Keep your home dry and well ventilated.
  • When showering or cooking keep internal doors closed.
  • Do not dry clothes indoors, store in damp cupboards or pack clothes too tightly in wardropes.
  • Deal with any damp and condensation in your home.
Food allergies

By law manufacturers must clearly label any foods that contain something that is known to cause an allergy, such as celery, cereals, crustaceans, eggs, fish, milk, mustard, nuts, seseme seeds, soybeans and the preservatives sulphur dioxide and sulphites. By carefully checking the label for the list of ingredients, you should be able to avoid an allergic reaction.

Many people experience an allergic reaction while eating out at a restaurant. You can avoid this by:-

  • Not relying on the menu description alone.
  • Communicating clearly with the waiting staff and asking for their advice.
  • Avoiding places where there is a chance of different foods coming into contact with each other, such as buffets and bakeries.

Remember simple dishes are less likely to contain "hidden" ingredients.

Severe allergies

If you have ever had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) you should carry two EpiPens or Anapens with you everywhere you go.

Wear a MedicAlert or Medi-Tag medallion or bracelet, so people are aware of your allergy in an emergency, and consider telling your teachers, work colleagues and friends so they can give you your adrenaline injection in an emergency and call an ambulance. Following this advice could save your life.

More information on allergies.

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Hayfever

Hayfever is a very common condition that affects two in every 10 people in the UK. It is caused by an allergy to airborne substances such as grass or hay pollen, which affects the upper respiratory passages (nose, sinus, throat and eyes). Hayfever usually occurs during the spring and summer months.

Hayfever symptoms can be similar to a cold and include a runny nose, watery eyes and repeated sneezing attacks.

It is very difficult to completely avoid pollen but you should be able to ease the severity of your hayfever symptoms by taking some sensible precautions. Reduce your exposure to pollen by trying to stay indoors when pollen counts are high. If it is humid or windy the pollen count is likely to be higher. Generally, the pollen count is highest in the early evening, so try to avoid going outside around this time. You can also try the following:-

  • Keep windows and doors shut in the house, draw the curtains to keep out the sun and keep temperature down.
  • Avoid cutting grass, playing or walking in grassy areas and camping.
  • Change your clothes and take a shower after being outdoors to remove any pollen.
  • Wear wrap-around sunglasses to stop pollen getting in your eyes.
  • Keep car windows closed and consider buying a pollen filter for the air vents in your car.
  • Keep fresh flowers out of the house, and vacuum and damp dust regularly.
  • Do not smoke or let anyone smoke in your house, breathing in people's smoke irritates the lining of the nose, eyes, throat and airways which can make symptoms worse.
  • Keep pets out of the house during the hayfever season.
  • Apply vaseline around the edge of the nostrils to stop pollen entering the nasal passage

For self-assessment and advice if you have hayfever symptoms use our symptom checker.
More information on hayfever.

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Toothache

Toothache is pain in an area of your jaw and face. It usually happens when the inside of a tooth becomes irritated and inflamed. If you have toothache it is important that you see a dentist as soon as possible to have it treated. While you are waiting to see a dentist you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

The best way to prevent toothache is to keep your teeth and gums as healthy as possible. Some of the ways you can do this are outlined below:-

  • Limit the amount of sugary foods and drinks you have (have them as an occassional treat and only at mealtimes).
  • Brush your teeth twice a day using toothpaste containing fluoride. Gently brush your tongue and gums as well.
  • Clean between your teeth using dental floss and use a mouthwash if necessary.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking can make some dental problems worse.
  • Visit your dentist at least once a year. Consider having your teerth cleaned occassionally by a hygienist. Children should have dental check-ups every six months so that any decay can be spotted and treated early.


For self-assessment and advice if you have toothache symptoms use our symptom checker
More information on toothache.

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Chickenpox

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. The spots are most likely to appear on the face, ears and scalp, under the arms, on the chest and stomach and on the arms and legs.

There is no cure for chickenpox, and the virus usually clears up by itself without treatment. However, there are some steps you can take to ease the symptoms and there are important steps you can take to stop chickenpox spreading.

Here are some tips which you can do at home if someone is suffering from chickenpox:-

  • Take Painkillers - If your child is in pain or has a high fever then you can give them a mild painkiller such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (read the instructions before use).
  • Keep Hydrated - It is important for children (and adults) with chickenpox to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Sugar-free ice lollies may also help.
  • Avoid food that may make your mouth sore, such as salty foods. Soup is usually easy to swallow.
  • Stop the Scratching - chickenpox can be very itchy but it is important not to scratch the spots so as to avoid future scaring. Keep children's fingernails clean and short to stop deep scratching. You may also consider putting socks over the child's hands at night to stop them scratching in their sleep. If your child's skin is very itchy or sore, you could try using calamine lotion or colling gels.
  • Cool Clothing - If your child has a fever, or if the skin is sore and aggravated, then dress them appropriately so that they don't get too hot or too cold. It is best to wear loose-fitting, smooth, cotton fabrics. You should avoid tepid sponging. This can make your child too cold, and it may cause shivering.
  • You can help stop the virus from spreading by wiping any object or surfaces with a sterilising solution and make sure that any infected clothing or bedding is washed regularly.

If your child has chickenpox, you should inform your child's school or nursery and keep them at home while they are infectious, which is until the last blister has burst and crusted over.

More information on chickenpox.

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Ear Infections

Ear infections happen when germs such as bacteria, viruses or fungi cause swelling and irritation of your ear. They are most common in childhood, and are often passed from one child to another, but they can happen at any age. Ear infections can be uncomfortable but are not usually serious.

Infections of the middle ear are called otitis media, and infections of the outer ear are called otitis externa. The outer ear includes all the parts of the ear outside the body, and up to the eardrum. The middle of the ear includes all the parts between your eardrum and the hearing nerve, inside your head.

Treatment for ear infections depends on the cause. Most middle ear infections clear up without treatment in about three days. Nose drops, bought over the counter, can help to reduce any swelling inside the nose and Eustachian tubes and ease the pressure on the ear.

Outer ear infections may be treated with lotions, creams or ear-drops containing anti-bacterial, anti-fungal or moisturising ingredients. These can be applied inside the ear canal on a special piece of gauze (discuss with pharmacist or GP before putting anything inside your ear).

Over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol can help relieve the pain.

For self-assessment and advice if you have ear-related symptoms use our symptom checker
More information on ear infections.

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Back Pain

Back pain is a common condition that affects most people at some point during their life. Most cases of back pain are associated with pain and stiffness in the lower back. Back pain can be classified according to how long the symptoms last. For example:-

  • Acute back pain - the pain does not last longer than six weeks.
  • Chronic back pain - the pain lasts for more than six weeks.

While acute back pain can be frustrating to live with, try to remain as positive as possible. If you have acute back pain, it is important to remain as active as possible. If you find it too painful to return to your normal daily activities immediately, pace yourself by carrying out your daily activities at a reduced level or a slower rate. Aim to do a little more each day.

Many people with back pain find using either hot or cold compression packs helps to reduce the pain. You can make your own cold compression pack by wrapping a bag of frozen food in a towel. Hot compression packs are often available from larger pharmacies. You may find it useful to use one type of pack after the other.

Placing a small firm cushion beneath your knees when you are sleeping on your side, or using several firm pillows to prop up your knees when lying on your back, may help to ease your symptoms.

More information on back pain.

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Head lice

Head lice are tiny wingless insects that are grey-brown in colour. They are the size of a pinhead when they hatch and 3mm long (the size of a sesame seed) when fully grown. Head lice cannot fly, jump or swim. They are spread by head-to-head contact and climb from the hair of an infected person to the hair of someone else.

After a head lice infestation is confirmed, you can treat the lice at home by wet combing using a head lice comb, or medicated lotions.

However, neither treatment method will protect against re-infestation if head-to-head contact is made with someone with head lice during the treatment period.

Wet Coming method - The wet combing method is described below:-

  • Wash the hair using ordinary shampoo and apply ample conditioner, before using a wide-toothed comb to straighten and untangle the hair.
  • Once the comb moves freely through the hair without dragging, switch to the louse detection comb. Make sure that the teeth of the comb slot into the hair at the roots with the bevel-edge of the teeth lightly touching the scalp.
  • Draw the comb down to the ends of the hair with every stroke and check the comb for lice.
  • Remove lice by wiping or rinsing the comb.
  • Work methodically through the hair section by section so that the whole hair is combed.
  • Rinse out the conditioner and repeat the combing procedure in the wet hair.
  • Repeat the procedure on day 5, 9 and 13 to clear any young lice as they hatch, before they have time to reach maturity.

Medicated lotion or spray - Medicated lotion or sprays is an alternative method for treating head lice. However, no medicated treatment is 100% effective. Your pharmacist will be able to recommend an over-the-counter lotion or spray. Read the instructions before use.

For self-assessment and advice if you or someone else has head lice symptoms use our symptom checker.
More information on head lice.

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Menopause

The menopause is sometimes known as the 'change of life' and is marked by the ending of menstruation (when a woman's periods stop). A woman's periods do not usually stop suddenly. They generally become less frequent, the odd period is missed and then they stop altogether.

In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach menopause is 52. Most women reach the menopause without seeking medical advice. However, treatments are available that can ease menopausal symptoms that are severe or distressing.

If your menopausal symptoms are not severe, it may not be necessary to treat them using medication. Many women who experience menopausal symptoms find that they can ease them by making changes to their lifestyle and diet. Some of the various menopausal symptoms, and how they can be improved by lifestyle changes, are outlined below.

To improve hot flushes and night sweats:

  • Take regular exercise
  • Wear light clothing
  • Keep your bedroom cool at night
  • Try to reduce your stress levels
  • Avoid potential triggers, such as spicy food, caffeine, smoking and alcohol.

To improve sleep disturbance:

  • Avoid exercise late in the day
  • Go to bed at the same time every night.

To improve mood disorder:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Take regular exercise
  • Try relaxation exercises, such as yoga.

 More information on menopause.

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Hangover

The term hangover is most commonly used to describe the symptoms you may experience after drinking a large amount of alcohol. Symptoms include tiredness, headache and dehydration.

Treatment of hangovers involves rehydrating the body and dealing with the painful symptoms. Over-the-counter painkillers will help you to cope with the pain of headaches and muscle cramps. Paracteamol-based remedies are preferable as aspirin may further irritate the stomach and increase nausea and sickness.

There is evidence to suggest that fructose, a natural sugar found in fruit juice and honey, helps the body to process alcohol faster. Bouillon soup, a thin vegetable-based broth, is also a good source of vitamins and minerals (including salt and potassium), to top up the body's depleted resources.

Alcohol causes dehydration, as the body loses salt and minerals. You can replace these by drinking plenty of bland liquids such as tap water and soda water. Isotonic drinks which are now available in most shops, replace lost salt in the body.

You can reduce the risk of a bad hangover by following these tips:

  • Limit yourself to one drink per hour. The body can process alcohol at a rate of about 15ml per hour, the equivalent to approximately one small can of medium strength lager.
  • Eat a meal before you start drinking. Food helps to absorb alcohol, giving the body more time to process it and reducing the risk of a hangover.
  • Drink plenty of water to counter the dehydrating effects of alcohol. Intersperse alcoholic drinks with water to avoid the 'morning after thirst'.
  • Avoid drinks that contain large amounts of congeners, as these tend to cause more severe hangovers. Generally, these are dark-coloured drinks such as red wine, brandy and port.

More information on hangovers.

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Sports injuries

Playing sport and doing regular exercise is good for your health, but sometimes you can injure yourself. Sports injuries can be caused by:

  • Not warming up properly before exercising
  • Using inadequate equipment
  • Pushing yourself too hard
  • An accident

Types of sports injuries include:

  • Blisters
  • Bruises
  • Cuts
  • Minor head injuries
  • Sprains and strains
  • Swelling of a tendon

If you have an injury stop exercising if you feel pain, regardless of whether your sports injury happened suddenly or you've had the pain for a while. If a particular movement or activity hurts, stop doing it and get medical help. Continuing to exercise while you're injured may cause further damage and slow your recovery time. Most minor sports injuries can be treated using self-care techniques, such as:

  • Resting the affected body part
  • Using over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen, to relieve symptoms of pain and swelling.

If your injury does not require medical treatment - for example, a mild sprain or other minor muscle or ligament damage - you can treat it at home using the RICE therapy. RICE stands for:

  • Rest - avoid regular exercise and reduce your daily physical activity. Using crutches or a walking stick may help if you cannot put weight on your ankle or knee.
  • Ice - apply an ice pack to the affected area for 10-30 minutes. A bag of frozen peas, or similar, will work well. Wrap the ice pack in a towel to avoid it directly touching your skin and causing ice burn.
  • Compression - use elastic compression bandages to limit swelling.
  • Elevation - keep the injured knee, leg, arm, elbow or wrist raised above the level of the heart. This may also help to reduce swelling.

After 48 hours of RICE therapy, stop compression and try moving the injured area. If, after this time, your symptoms are worse, seek advice from your GP.

Painkillers, such as paracetamol can be used along with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen to help ease the pain caused by sprains and fractures and help to reduce any swelling. Immobilisation is a treatment that helps prevent further damage by reducing movement. It also reduces pain, muscle swelling and muscle spasm, and speeds up the healing process by encouraging blood to flow directly to the injured area.

More information on sports injuries.

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Stress (anxiety/depression)

Stress is the feeling of being under pressure. A little bit of pressure can:

  • Increase productivity
  • Be motivating
  • Improve performance

However, too much pressure or prolonged pressure, can lead to stress, which is unhealthy for both the mind and body. It can cause symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Sweating
  • Lack of appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating

It is difficult to estimate how common stress is because not everyone who has stress visits their GP. However, research suggests that a quarter of all adults will have a mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety, at some point in their lives. The same issues that contribute to these conditions, such as divorce and unemployment, may also cause stress.

It may be possible to manage short-term stress using relaxation techniques, such as listening to music. Making changes at work or home may also help by removing the cause of stress. If stress is not treated, it may cause further health problems such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

These conditions may require further treatment, including medications such as antidepressants or talking therapies such as counselling.

If you are feeling stressed, the tips below may be useful:

  • Work out what situations make you feel stressed and how you behave in those situations. See if there is a way of managing those pressures so that you can face them in a different way.
  • Make a list of all the things that make life stressful and a list of things that would help make life less stressful. This can help you sort out how you feel about certain situations.
  • If you feel that problems keep on building up and making you more stressed, tell someone about it.

More information on alternative treatments for stress.

More information on anxiety.

More information on depression.

More information on mental health

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Insomnia

Insomnia is difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning. This happens despite having enough opportunity to sleep. It's difficult to define what normal sleep is as everyone is different. Your age, lifestyle, environment and diet all play a part in influencing the amount of sleep you need.

Insomnia can often be prevented by changing your daytime and bedtime habits or by improving your bedroom environment. Making small changes may help you get a good night's sleep. Try some of the methods below for at least three or four weeks..

Daytime habits

  • Set a specific time for getting up each day. Stick to this time, seven days a week, even if you feel you haven't had enough sleep. This should help you sleep better at night.
  • Don't take a nap during the day.
  • Take daily exercise, such as 30 minutes walking or cycling, at least four hours before you're planning to go to bed. This will allow your body temperature to cool down.

Bedtime habits

  • Stop drinking tea and coffee four hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking because alcohol and nicotine are also stimulants. Alcohol may make you sleepy at first but will wake you up when the effects have worn off.
  • Don't eat a big meal or spicy foods just before bedtime. A small snack that contains tryptophan (a natural sleep-promoting amino acid) may help, such as turkey, banana or fish.
  • Only go to bed when you're feeling tired.
  • Try to create a bedtime routine, such as taking a bath and drinking a warm, milky drink every night. These activities will be associated with sleep and will cause drowsiness.
  • Don't lie in bed feeling anxious about sleeping. Instead, get up and go to another room for a short period and do something else, such as reading or watching television, and then try again.
  • Don't watch the clock because this will only make you anxious.
  • Write a list of your worries and any ideas to solve them, then try to forget about it until the morning.

Bedroom environment

  • Use thick blinds or curtains or wear an eye mask if the early morning sunlight or bright streetlamps affect your sleep.
  • Wear ear plugs if noise is a problem.
  • Don't use the bedroom for anything other than sleeping and sex. Don't watch television, make phone calls, eat or work while you're in bed.
  • Make sure that you have a comfortable mattress, a pillow that you like and adequate bed covers for the time of year.

When you find that you're asleep for most of the time that you're in bed, try going to bed 15 minutes earlier, but make sure you get up at the same time.

More information on insomnia.

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Cough

A cough is a reflex action to clear your airways of mucus and irritants such as dust or smoke. Coughs may be dry or chesty. They're also classified according to how long they last:

  • Acute cough lasts for less than three weeks
  • Subacute cough gets better over a three-to-eight week period
  • Chronic (persistent) cough lasts for longer than eight weeks

Most coughs clear up within two weeks.

There is 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. The simplest and cheapest way to treat a short-term cough may be a homemade cough remedy containing honey and lemon. The honey is a demulcent, which means it coats the throat and relives the irritation that causes coughing.

Cough Medicines - There's little evidence to suggest that cough medicines actually work, although some of the ingredients may help to treat symptoms that are associated with a cough, such as a blocked nose or fever. Some contain paracetamol, so don't take more than the recommended dosage. Cough medicines should never be taken for more than two weeks.

Cough Suppresants - Cough suppresants, such as pholcodine, dextrommethorphan and antihistamines, act on the brain to hold back the cough reflex. They're used for dry coughs only. Check with your GP or pharmacist before taking cough suppresants.

Expectorants - Expectorants help bring phlegm up so that coughing is easier, which may help chesty coughs. They include guaiphenesin, ammonium chloride, squill, sodium citrate and ipecacuanha. These compounds are all found in small quantities in cough mixtures, so they're unlikely to have side effects or interact with other medicines.

Antibiotics - Antibiotics are not used to treat coughs because they are only effective in killing bacteria, not viruses. Therefore, unless you develop a secondary bacterial infection, such as pneumonia, antibiotics will not usually be advised.

Treating Children - 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. This recommendation has been made as they feel that there's a potential risk of these medicines causing unpleasant side effects, such as allergic reactions, sleep problems or hallucinations.

Instead, give your child a warm drink of lemon and honey or a simple cough syrup that contains glycerol or honey. However, honey shouldn't be given to babies under the age of one, due to the risk of infant botulism.

For self-assessment and advice if you have cough symptoms use our symptom checker
More information on coughs.

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Sore throat

Sore throats are normally caused by bacterial, or viral, infections. Sore throats are a common condition, with most people having at least two, or three, every year. They tend to be more common among children and teenagers. This is because young people have not built up immunity against many of the viruses and bacteria that can cause sore throats.

Most sore throats are not serious and pass within 3-7 days without the need for medical treatment. Over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers, such as paracetamol, can usually be used to relieve the symptoms of a sore throat.

Analgesics should be taken regularly for 48 hours after the onset of your symptoms. However, you should not exceed the recommended, or prescribed, dose.

Antibiotics are not usually recommended for the treatment of sore throats.

If you, or someone in your family, have a sore throat, the tips outlined below may also help:-

  • Avoid food or drink that is too hot because this could irritate your throat
  • Eating cool, soft food and drinking cool, or warm liquids, which may help to relieve symptoms
  • Adults and older children may find that sucking lozenges, hard sweets, or ice cubes, can provide additional relief from their symptoms
  • Avoid smoking and smoky environments
  • Regularly using a mouthwash of warm, salty water may help to reduce any swelling, or pain.

More information on sore throats.

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