Help & Advice

Please note that advice on this page is only for general guidance. If you have any concerns please consult your doctor.

Colds and Runny Noses »
Constipation »
Coughing »
Diarrhoea »
Earache »
Eye irritation & infectionHeadache »

Heartburn »
Influenza »
Irritable Bowel »
Sinusitis »
Sleeping Problems »
Sore Throat »
Vomiting »

Colds and Runny Noses

It starts with feeling unwell, sniffing, runny and/or blocked nose. After l to 2 days the nose starts to run with a watery, clear fluid which then becomes thick and green. A high temperature does not occur with a normal cold but it can in small children. The nose is linked to the ears, sinuses and throat; therefore the cold can spread there. This can result in middle ear infection or sinusitis, often with a fever. A frequent and annoying cough may start because the mucus runs down the back of the throat and tickles the airways. Other symptoms linked with a cold are: sneezing, hoarseness, sore throat and a slightly raised body temperature. There are more than 1,000 types of cold virus, so immunisation it not possible. There are no medicines against these viruses, and antibiotics do not help either. You can only treat cold symptoms. A cold usually gets better after 5 to 10 days. If there is no fever, someone with a cold may go out of doors as normal. Do not be afraid that you will catch another cold on top.

Self Care: What you can do for yourself

Keep the room well ventilated and sleep with the window open. Sleep with your head slightly higher. Do not smoke. If you are suffering badly from a blocked nose or blocked ears, rinse out your nose with salt water or nose drops, suck a menthol sweet or gargle salt water or soluble Aspirin or Paracetamol. You may have to do this for more than a week.

Self Care: Children

Children over 1 year

Give enough to drink. Hot drinks can have a soothing effect.
The child may go outdoors.


It is difficult for a baby with a blocked nose to drink from the breast or bottle. The baby will decide not to drink rather than to choke. The baby then becomes hungry and will cry more. The baby can only drink again once the nose is clear.

Meanwhile, you can feed the baby with a sterilised spoon from a cup. A steamy atmosphere, e.g. bathroom or kitchen will help to relieve congestion


Colds are normal among children particularly if they go to places where there are many other children, like child minders, play schools or nurseries.

Contact your doctor

  • If as well as the cold there is a high temperature/fever which lasts longer than 3 days.
  • If green or yellow mucus comes out of the nose for longer than 1 to 2 weeks.
  • If a baby continues to cry.

Contact your doctor immediately

  • If despite the above treatment babies still cannot or will not take feeds on 2 occasions.


Constipation is when you have bowel movements less often than is usual for you. Everyone's bowel movements are different. It is normal for some people to have a couple of movements each day and others a couple a week. What matters is whether the pattern of movements which you were always used to changes, or you go to the toilet less and with more difficulty. This may point to constipation. The most common causes of constipation are low fibre foods, lack of exercise, not drinking enough and poor bowel training. This means that you do not go to the toilet when you do have the need. Some medicines may cause (slight) constipation. This is particularly true for iron tablets, anti–depressants and codeine preparations.

Self Care: What you can do for yourself

The best way of preventing constipation is to have a varied diet and enough exercise. With one hour's intensive exercise each day the food passes through the bowels three times faster than when you sit still the whole day. High–fibre meals (brown rice, raw vegetables, green vegetables) combined with fruit (well washed unpeeled apples, oranges) and wholemeal bread are to be recommended. You can also add bran to dishes. Chew your food well and drink plenty. With adults this means 1.5 litres or 2.5 pints per day. Instead of taking medicine in the mornings take a glass of lukewarm water on an empty stomach. Go to the toilet as soon as you feel the need. Never put if off.

Contact your doctor

  • If there is mucus or blood mixed in the stool (bowel movement).
  • If the bowel movements lessen noticeably without your lifestyle changing.
  • If your pattern starts to swap between hard stools and very loose motion


Coughing is your body's way of clearing your airways. When your throat is irritated by something you may get a dry or tickly cough.

Self Care: What you can do for yourself

Suck a 'boiled' sweet or sip hot 'honey and lemon' drinks. This will give a temporary relief. Don't smoke. Avoid smoky rooms. (Avoid smoking near children) Put your hand over your mouth when you cough and tell your children to do the same. Cough up mucus if you can. Use extra pillows at night. With babies and children raise the head of the bed or mattress by 4in. (10cm). Try a steam inhalation: breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water. For children make the bathroom steamy and sit with them for 5 minutes. (The bathroom should be as steamy as a Turkish bath).

Contact your doctor

If you cough up mucus with blood in it.

  • If your breathing is painful, wheezy, loud, or if you are short of breath.
  • If your cough lasts more than 2 weeks.
  • If you have a high temperature and a cough and this goes on for more than 5 days.


All the above reasons and:

  • If your child has a high temperature and appears unwell.
  • If your child has acute problems with their breathing which you cant understand.
  • If your child's breathing is very fast and makes them pant.

Contact your doctor immediately

  • If your breathing is painful.
  • If your child's breathing is very fast or the child is using a lot of effort to breathe.
  • If you notice that your child's lips are bluish in colour.
  • If you are a known asthmatic and are not improving on your usual medication.


Three or more liquid/semi–liquid bowel movements in a day may mean you have diarrhoea. You may also have vomiting and a high temperature. Diarrhoea will make you feel weak because important body fluids and salts are lost. Diarrhoea is caused by various viral infections (gastro–enteritis) or by eating food that has gone off (food poisoning).


Baby diarrhoea is recognised by an increase in the number of motions which become more and more liquid.

Self Care: What you can do for yourself

Stop all Dairy Products

Ensure that frequent drinks of clear fluid, very dilute squashes or apple juice are taken. In babies under 1 year and the very elderly it is important to replace lost salts by taking an Oral Rehydration Solution) ask your local chemist). ORS is a mixture of salt and glucose which is added to water – ask your chemist. It comes under various brand names from chemists' shops. (Buy ORS with a flavour added. This is easier for children to drink). As the diarrhoea lessens gradually try more solid food without fat. Grated apple or carrots and lean meat are fine. Dry bread or crackers are also okay.

Avoid spreading infection

Wash your hands after you go to the toilet and after you change your baby's nappy. Clean the toilet often with disinfectant. Always clean under the toilet seat.


Your contraceptive pill will not give you full protection when you have diarrhoea.


It is very important to replace lost fluids.

Bottle Feeding

Stop bottle–feeding your baby. Give the baby water based fluid to drink and nothing else for 24 hours.

Breast Feeding

Increase the number of feeds and give your baby extra water–based fluids to drink after each nappy. If the baby won't take from a bottle, use a teaspoon.

Contact your doctor

  • If you have a high temperature as well as diarrhoea.
  • If you think you may have picked up a stomach bug from another country.
  • If the diarrhoea goes on longer than a week, and you have been following this advice.

Children over 1 year

  • If symptoms go on longer than 2 days.

Children under 1 year

  • If baby refusing to drink and not having wet nappies for more than 6 hours – must be seen by Doctor.

Contact your doctor immediately

  • If there is blood in the diarrhoea or the diarrhoea is red in colour.
  • If your baby is drowsy or confused.
  • If your baby does not want to drink for a few hours.
  • If your baby is also being sick all the time.
  • If your baby also has a high temperature.


Earache can be caused by eczema in the ear or earwax. It can also be caused by an infection in the middle ear. This is usually the result of a cold. The symptoms of middle ear infection are: earache, a feeling that there is a blockage in the ear and a temperature. Sometimes fluid runs from the ear.


When small children have a cold they often get a slight pressure in the ears. This is because the link between nose and middle ear (the Eustachian tube) becomes blocked. Like the nose, this tube is covered with a membrane (a think lining). If, with a cold, this membrane swells, the mucus formed inside it cannot get away. It presses on the ear and causes pain

After a few days the swelling goes down and the trapped mucus can drain. Sometimes bacteria stick in the mucus. The ear pain does not then disappear and an unpleasant discharge can then be noticed coming from the ear. In some cases the infection only makes itself known as pus comes out of the ear.

A yellowish damp patch will then be found on the pillow.

Self Care: What you can do for yourself

Laying the head a little higher in bed sometimes brings relief. You can use nose drops, menthol sweets or steam inhalations, particularly before going to sleep. These are available without prescription from chemists and drugstores. The pain may be relieved with a painkiller.


When a child has a cold and it is more likely to get middle ear infections, earache can be prevented as for adults (see section about colds). You may also give a painkiller such as children's Paracetamol. Make sure that at night the child's head lies higher than the rest of the body. Sometimes middle ear infection without discharge does not need to be treated with antibiotics.

Contact your doctor

  • If you have an earache with or without fever which does not disappear with a painkiller.
  • If your ear starts to 'run' even if the pain has gone.


  • If, despite a painkiller, the child still has a bad earache after twelve hours.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. This thins the mucus.
  • Have the child examined by a doctor if you suspect an ear infection, especially if the child is still too young to say so itself.
  • When the ear surrounding the ear is painful. If following the earache you are concerned about the child's hearing, make an appointment with the doctor for a hearing test.

Contact your doctor immediately


  • If a child has a runny ear and the pain and/or fever does not lessen.
  • If the child becomes drowsy

Eye irritation and infection

Eyes can become red from many different causes, allergies or infections. This is called conjunctivitis. The inside of the eyelid is red and the redness often spreads onto the whites of the eyes. Infections are due to either viruses or skin bacteria. Red and/or itchy eyes can also be caused by an allergy to such things as pollen (from grass, plants and trees), hay fever and increasingly – air pollution. Eyes can also redden if something gets into the eye. Looking at a welding arc or ultraviolet light without protecting the eyes is dangerous (arc eye). Red and painful eyes can also be caused by an eye infection deep inside the eye.


Infected eyes often occur with cold viruses. This is usually harmless and disappears by itself. The infection is wholly superficial. If pus forms, this can point to an infection by normal skin bacteria, after a virus had reduced the eyes' defences.

Self Care: What you can do for yourself

Always be sure to wear protective goggles when using power tools or when under a sunray lamp. If a substance gets into your eye and it is not an acid or other caustic substance then try repeated rinsing with lukewarm water. If a caustic substance, such as an acid gets in the eye:

  • Go straight to your Local Casualty Department after rinsing the eye.

For any eye infections or soreness

Cleanse the eyes with boiled but then cooled water. Often the eyelashes become stuck together. Soak crusts away using wet cotton wool. It is quite safe to cleanse the inside of the lower eyelid using moist cotton wool. Pull the eyelid down slightly and wipe the cotton wool from the sides towards the nose.

Contact your doctor

  • If the eyes are discharging pus.
  • If they are not better after 5 – 7 days.

Contact your doctor immediately

  • If you think that there is something in the eye and you cannot rinse it out yourself.
  • If the eye is painful or if you have arc eye or have been drilling metal.


  • If the eye is so red that the eye white is no longer visible.


AA headache can have many causes. Usually it is stress or tension. Headaches often occur with a temperature and with common illness like influenza or colds. Now and again a headache can come from a bad tooth, or poorly air–conditioned rooms. The three most commonly occurring forms of headache are:

Tension headaches

These are caused by stress and anxiety. They are usually accompanied by pain and stiffness of the neck and shoulder muscles. It often feels as though there is a tight band around the forehead.


These are headaches which come in attacks. A migraine attack often starts with visual disturbances followed by a bad headache (often on one side) and sometimes nausea and vomiting. After the attack the head can often feel heavy. Usually migraine can be treated with medicines. The most effective way is to take them when the start of an attack is felt. There are now medicines which can interrupt attacks after they have started. The cause of migraine is unknown, though some migraine inducing factors are known, such as working under stress, tiredness, heavy smoking or drinking, menstruation and changes in air pressure.

Pains in forehead and face

Pains in forehead and face can occur at the same time as sinusitis or after getting a cold. Strain in the muscles around the eyes (intense staring or the wrong glasses) can cause a pain in the forehead. This often occurs during the course of the day or in the evenings. An impacted (crooked) tooth can cause strain on the jaw and this can also cause a headache.

Self Care: What you can do for yourself

Try simple pain killers. Ensure that you have enough fresh air. Avoid smoky rooms and ensure that you have enough ventilation at home and in the workplace. Get enough rest at night in a cool, well ventilated room. Have your eyes checked if you have visual problems. Go to the dentist if you think that there may be something wrong with your teeth.

With a tension headache consider whether a poor working posture is putting too much strain on your shoulders or neck muscles For example, an office chair might be too high or too low, causing pain and stiffness of the shoulder and neck muscles. Consider whether there may be any emotional causes.

The trick with migraines is to avoid all things that might cause migraine headaches. Think about stress, heavy pressure of work, hectic lifestyle, too little rest at night, too much alcohol and smoking.

Contact your doctor

  • If you think that you are having migraines.
  • If the headache persists longer than 5 days, or is getting worse.
  • If a pain in the forehead persists even though the other symptoms of a cold have passed.
  • If you are pregnant.

Contact your doctor immediately

  • If you get a bad headache suddenly, problems with your vision and without any apparent cause.
  • If you get a headache following an accident or one which does not go away.


Bringing up stomach acid can give a burning feeling in the upper part of the stomach and the gullet (passage by which food goes from mouth to stomach). There are many causes. Sometimes the valve between the stomach and gullet is not working properly. This happens with hernias. A hiatus hernia can occur if the gap in the diaphragm where the gullet passes through is too wide. Other causes of heartburn and stomach acid are a stomach ulcer, an infection or medicines, particularly Aspirins and other so–called anti–inflammatory drugs. The symptoms may worsen through anxiety, stress, smoking or alcohol, as these produce more and stronger stomach acid.

SELF CARE What you can do for yourself

Rest your stomach. Do not drink coffee or alcohol, and do not smoke. Avoid hot, spicy food such as curry. Don't eat a large meal or a lot just before going to bed. Eat often and in small amounts. Take snacks like digestive biscuits and milk. Chew your food well. Avoid any medicines which could irritate the stomach (most painkillers and rheumatic pain remedies). Consider whether stress could be a cause. Go to bed on time. Chemists and corner shops sell indigestion remedies.

Contact your doctor

  • When you are getting stomach pains regularly.
  • If you are losing weight.
  • If your appetite is reduced.
  • If despite dietary efforts, problems last longer than 2 weeks.

Contact your doctor immediately

  • If you vomit and bring up blood.
  • If your stools (bowel movements) look black.


Influenza or flu is a viral illness often occurring in outbreaks (epidemic). It starts with a (39°C/102°F to 40°C/104°F) fever, headache, muscle aches and high temperature / chestiness. Flu cannot be treated with antibiotics. Flu is not usually dangerous. The fever generally disappears after 3 to 5 days. It may take up to two weeks before full recovery. Flu can lead to middle ear infection and other bacterial illness, or rarely pneumonia. These can be treated by your doctor. Anti–influenza vaccinations are available. They reduce your chance of getting flu by 70%. They are strongly advised for high risk groups. These are people who have difficulty in combating flu because they have other diseases.

SELF CARE What you can do for yourself

Adults & Children (aged over 12 years)

Drink a lot. Keep the room well ventilated and sleep with the window open. Treat any symptoms you get. You can take paracetamol for the headache. This also reduces the fever. Take 2 or 3 soluble Aspirin (600–900mg) or 1 or 2 Ibuprofen (200–400mg) every 4–6 hours for muscular pain. (Adults) Try to avoid infecting other people. Cover the mouth and nose when you sneeze. Wash your hands regularly, this prevents droplet spread of infection (germs spreading through the air).

Children (12 years and below)

Small children often do not want to eat when they are ill. Do not force them. Give them extra drinks and semi–solid food like yoghurt and porridge. You can give children's paracetamol for any muscular pain and temperature.

Contact your doctor


  • If the fever has not reduced by the fourth day of illness.
  • If the child is refusing to drink.
  • If the child starts to become increasingly unwell, vomits or is confused.

Contact your doctor immediately

  • If the child is having breathing problems: wheezing, gasping for air.
  • If you think your child is in pain when breathing in.
  • If the child is weak.
  • If the child is drowsy or confused.
  • If the child cannot talk or does not react to its surroundings.
  • If the child is vomiting or not drinking and has diarrhoea.
  • If the child can't sit up or bend their head forward.

High Risk Groups – include:

  • People with chronic bronchial disorders
  • People with CF (cystic fibrosis)
  • People with chronic heart disorders
  • Pregnant women
  • Very old people (over 80)
  • People with sugar diabetes
  • People with kidney diseases
  • People with liver diseases
  • People with reduced resistance, for example, when undergoing chemotherapy or oral steroid treatment

If you are not sure whether you are in one of the above high–risk groups, ask your doctor.

Irritable Bowel

A symptom of irritable bowel syndrome is a cramping, tight feeling in the abdomen, particularly after a meal. This is accompanied by irregular bowel movements (constipation) and diarrhoea. It is not known exactly why irritable bowel syndrome occurs, but it is known that all kinds of factors have their influence on intestinal movement. The movement may be either large or small. This is why diarrhoea alternates with constipation. The complaint can also be caused by the wrong choice of food and lack of physical exercise.

Self Care What you can do for yourself

Eat low fat and high–fibre foods. You may also add extra fibre to your food (ask for this as the chemist). Eating enough wholemeal bread, fruit, raw vegetables, lean meat or fish is often quite adequate. Ensure that you drink enough. This means 3 pints (1.5 litres) per day (minimum) or about 10 cups or 6 glasses.

Take regular physical exercise. For instance, where there is the choice always walk, or go running or take at least three quarters of an hour walk each day. Eat regularly and go to the toilet as soon as you feel the need. Consider whether stress might be having an influence.

Contact your doctor

  • If intestinal cramps as described above persist longer than 2 weeks, and this is the first time that you have had them. (This is to exclude any other illnesses).
  • If the pattern of bowel movements which you are used to changes without warning, that is to say, whether you need to go more often or perhaps less often to the toilet. If you have persistent constipation or diarrhoea for more than two weeks go to the doctor.
  • If you are losing blood and / or mucus with the movement.
  • If your appetite reduces or you lose weight without clear reason. Peoples' weight stays very constant if their lifestyle does not alter, that is, if the amount of food and exercise remain the same. If you lose more than 7lb (3 kg) without reason go to the doctor.


The sinuses are hollow spaces deep inside the nose, behind the cheek bones and in the forehead above the eyebrows. They are coated with the same kind of lining as the inside of the nose. Sinuses are linked to the nose via narrow passageways. When you have a cold the lining swells and can block these passageways. Then the mucus cannot drain. You will feel a pressing pain next to the nose or in the forehead. You can have a pain in the sinuses without there being an infection. This is the case with colds when you do not have a fever. Sometimes an infection gets into the blocked sinus. Then you get a fever and the pain gets worse. You feel pain when you chew or bend forward. Your teeth may feel painful. Smell and taste can be affected and may disappear.

Self Care What you can do for yourself

The most important thing is to ensure that the mucus can drain. You can use nose drops available without prescription from chemists. You can also rinse with salt water. Another helpful treatment is a steam inhalation. Do this by breathing in the steam from above a bowl of steaming water with a towel over your head. Drops of menthol can be added to the water. Blow one nostril at a time blocking the other completely and then use salt water drops or washouts

  • If the above treatment does not help after 5 days.
  • If you have a fever and pain in the forehead or around the eyes which is getting worse.

Sleeping Problems

Problems getting to sleep, being awake early or regularly wakeful at night can influence your feeling of well–being. The need for sleep in normal healthy people varies from 5 to 9 hours. The need for sleep generally reduces as you get older. Older people often sleep less deeply and awaken more quickly. A few nights of poor sleep do no harm. Usually those who claim not to have slept have actually slept, but very lightly. Sleeping problems are often caused by anxiety and turning things over in your head. Being anxious about not being able to sleep is itself often a cause of not sleeping well. Depressed people may have difficulty going to sleep and may wake early, and then find if difficult to get back to sleep

Self Care What you can do for yourself

Avoid sleeping during the day. 'Napping' may reduce your ability to sleep at night. Get up every day at the same time. This helps to set your daytime and night–time pattern. Do not use alcohol to help you to sleep. You will go to sleep more quickly but your sleep will be light and disturbed and you will awaken more easily. Also do not drink coffee or tea before going to sleep. Make sure that the bedroom is well ventilated, not too cold or too warm.

But most importantly do not worry about the number of hours sleep that you are able to get. You can get by with surprisingly little sleep. Only use medicines to help you sleep in exceptional cases. These medicines tend to dull the senses rather than give genuine sleep. Moreover, they can lead to addiction. Often an anti–depressant is more appropriate. Some people find an evening stroll and / or a glass of milk is more helpful. If you are someone who needs time in the day to go through things in your mind, set aside a time (half an hour before bed).

Contact your doctor

  • If sleeping problems are beginning to take control of and affect your daily life.

Sore Throat

A sore throat makes itself known by pain when swallowing and is felt in the tonsils at the back of the throat or in the larynx. If a sore throat is accompanied by a cold, muscle ache and coughing it is usually caused by a virus. A patient's natural resistance makes it go away by itself within a couple of days. When a sore throat is accompanied by swallowing problems and high fever, it could be an infection of the throat or tonsils. Swollen glands may then be felt in the neck. Sometimes antibiotics can be used to fight the infection, but only if a bacterium is the cause. But if often goes away on its own.


Healthy children's tonsils are nearly always large. Normally they are pink just like the inside of the mouth, but when infected they are bright red. Often small yellow spots are then visible.

SELF CARE What you can do for yourself

If you have a viral infection you may take a paracetamol. You can also lessen the pain by drinking cold drinks.


If swallowing is painful do not force the child to eat but do make sure that it gets enough to drink.

Contact your doctor

  • If swallowing becomes difficult as well as painful.
  • If the problems go on longer than three days and you have a persistent fever over 38.5°C (101°F).

Contact your doctor immediately

  • If the child has breathing problems.
  • If the child cannot drink or swallow.
  • If the child is unable to swallow there saliva.
  • If the child has a neck pain and a high fever.


We vomit when the stomach will not tolerate the food it takes in. The quickest way for the stomach to get rid of the food is back upwards. This happens when the stomach is irritated by a viral infection or food that has gone off. With a viral infection (gastroenteritis) there is usually diarrhoea and fever. When vomiting results from an infection, it generally lessens after 24 hours. A trace of blood may be seen in the vomit. This is no cause for concern. More blood than this could point to abdominal bleeding and you should call the doctor straightaway. Vomiting is common in early pregnancy.


A mouthful of milk often comes up with a burp, 'possetting'. This is not serious. Coughing increases the pressure in the stomach. In babies and small children the muscle 'valve' at the entrance to the stomach then opens easily. However, if babies vomit forcefully (projectile vomiting) this could mean a blockage of the gastrointestinal tract (intestines). This usually only occurs in the first few weeks of life.

Children over 1 year

Children tend to vomit more readily than adults. The cause may be harmless but it can also be very serious. Usually the cause is physical, but vomiting may also be triggered by anxiety or fear.

SELF CARE What you can do for yourself

If you do not feel thirsty, it is best for the first couple of hours to allow the stomach to settle so do not eat or drink anything. Then begin with little sips of water or very dilute fruit juices or still lemonade. If this says down, and you feel hungry, take some clear soup or water with dextrose. Then switch slowly to more solid food like toast or crackers. Avoid milk and other diary products as well as green vegetables.

At the start, try to give water, a teaspoonful at a time. If bottle feeding use 0.5 oz water. If breast feeding do not stop, but give extra fluids. Avoid formula milk unless baby refuses all other fluid, in which case give diluted, for example, quarter strength formula milk. When the vomiting has settled, change from water to quarter strength powdered milk and increase to half then full strength if vomiting does not start again. If it restarts, go back to the earlier strength that was tolerated.

Children over 1 year

Children can find vomiting frightening. So try to give reassurance by talking calmly when it happens. Try not to panic. Support the child while it is vomiting. Be sure to replace the loss of fluid and the salts and sugars it contains. Ideally do this with a fluid containing sugar and salt. The best is a fluid available from a chemist. Give small quantities of this fluid regularly. Some children do not like it so it is best to give very dilute fruit juices of still lemonade instead. A child that is vomiting and yet is drinking, always retains a little of the fluid. If you child does not mind try waiting 2 hours after vomiting has stopped and then continue with the fluids. If the fluid stays down you can try some toast or crackers after a few hours. Do not force food on the child if it does not want it or if the child vomits again directly after eating. If the child is vomiting yet has no other symptoms of illness and appears well otherwise, it may have eaten too many sweets or be upset about something.

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