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Common Illness & How To Look After Them At Home

These notes are written to help you deal with common illnesses. These usually last only a few days and while they are not a serious threat to life or health, the symptoms may be unpleasant. Our suggestions are meant to help you make yourself or family members more comfortable.

The practice staff, pharmacists, NHS Direct (0845 46 47) are always available for advice if you are uncertain. However, it is always helpful if simple remedies have been tried first. Ibuprofen or Paracetamol, diarrhoea mixtures, thermometers and first aid kits are all available over the counter from local pharmacies. They should always be available at home but kept well away from children's reach.


1. A child with a temperature

Children develop a raised temperature because of infection and most of these are viral. A virus does not respond to anti-biotics but fortunately most children will get over a virus infection in a few days without complications. If the temperature is very high, (normally it is 37 degrees centigrade or just below) we suggest the following measures:

  • try to lower the temperature by giving Paracetamol (Calpol) in the maximum dose stated for a child of that age. The dose can be repeated after four hours if necessary,
  • try to reduce the temperature by giving plenty of cool drinks and dress the child in light clothing,

if the child seems particularly ill apart from the temperature then telephone the doctor but do not wait until late at night. Remember that temperatures often fluctuate, and are usually higher at night than in the morning.

Sometimes young children will have a convulsion with a very high temperature. If this happens lie the child on his/her side and stay with them while the shaking lasts, then call the doctor.


2. Colds

Also known as upper respiratory tract infections. Colds are caused by different viruses. We all get them from time to time and no cure is available. Colds usually clear up within a few days, but may last over a week or ten days. They do not require a doctor's attention but the symptoms can be helped by taking Ibuprofen or Paracetamol two or three times a day and plenty of liquid to drink. Steam inhalations are soothing and may help open the passages of the nose; add Friars balsam, menthol crystals, Vick or Olbas Oil to hot water.


3. Influenze

'Flu is also a viral illness but the symptoms are much worse than a simple cold. A sore throat, high temperature and a cough are usually present often associated with aching limbs and headache. Usually it is not possible to go to work with 'flu and most people need at least a week to ten days to recover. Bed rest and Ibuprofen or Paracetamol, and perhaps a cough linctus usually help. Typically 'flu is followed by a period of feeling very tired and run down, which this may last for several days after the acute symptoms have passed. There is no need to worry if the appetite is lost for a few days but remember to take plenty of drinks, especially when the temperature is high.


4. Sore throats

Most sore throats are caused by viruses. Most do not require anti-biotics. Use throat lozenges and Ibuprofen or paracetamol. For people over 12 soluble Ibuprofen can be dissolved in water, then used for gargling before swallowing. Use treatments like this for a few days before making an appointment at the surgery.


5. Ear ache

This is not always due to infection in the ear and often accompanies sore throats and colds. Simple pain killers help but if it persists or the patient is generally unwell consult your doctor when he or she is next available.


6. Diarrhoea and vomiting

In most cases this common tummy upset (often called gastro-enteritis) gets better on its own after a few days. Treatment consists of replacing lost fluids with water or clear diluted drinks. It is as well to avoid solids for the first 24 hours and then to stick to a very light diet for the next day or two. Bread and potatoes (not fried) are sensible foods to start with.

In small babies, especially in the first three to six months of life, diarrhoea and vomiting can be more risky. We advise you to telephone your doctor about it if it lasts more than 24 hours in a young baby.


7. Strains, sprains and backache

Most will respond to a few days rest with regular simple pain killers which are available over the Chemist's counter. Sports injuries are helped by applying an ice pack (such as ice cubes in a plastic bag or a packet of frozen peas) to the affected part as soon as possible after injury. A support bandage or resting with the injured limb raised can also help.


8. Burns and scalds

Apply lots of cold water to the affected area as soon as possible and continue until the pain begins to subside. If the skin is blistered but not punctured apply antiseptic cream such as Savlon under a loose dry dressing. If the burn or scald is a large one, i.e. over four or five inches in diameter, or if the skin is broken we advise consultation with the Practice Nurse.

Sunburn should be treated as other burns, especially if it blisters.

9. Insect bites and stings

Calamine lotion and antihistamine tablets are available over the counter at the Chemist and will ease soreness and itching. The area around the sting will swell and become very red but it soon goes down. Bee stings should be scraped away rather than plucked out as this might inadvertently squeeze more of the venom into the wound.


10. Head lice

Head lice (or ‘nits’) are very common and can infect clean hair. They are normally picked up from other children. A shampoo can be bought from the Chemist to clear them up. Our Health Visitors will be happy to offer advice if the problem persists.


11. Nose bleeds

These are common in children especially after a cold. Sit the patient in a chair leaning forward with the mouth open. Squeeze the nostrils gently for about ten minutes, also applying a flannel or handkerchief soaked in cold water. Avoid picking or blowing the nose for the following 24 hours. Nose bleeds usually stop in ten to fifteen minutes but if they persist please ring for advice.


12. Vaccination and immunisation reactions

These often occur after injections against infectious illnesses, in adults as well as children. There may be swelling and inflammation at the site of the injection, which can be relieved by applying an ice pack. There may also be a feverish reaction which can occur up to ten days after the immunisation or even up to four weeks after the MMR injection. Treat with plenty of fluids by mouth and Paracetamol.

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