Self Help Information
Self Treatment of Common Illnesses and Accidents
Many common aches and pains can be simply treated at home without the need to consult a doctor.
(click on the headings below for more information)
- Back Pain
Most people will have low back pain at some time in their lives, and the vast majority will recover with little or no treatment within six weeks. Usually arising from the discs, joints of the spine, muscles or ligaments, the pain is described as ‘mechanical’. This type of pain is commonest between the ages of 20 and 50. Pain spreading to the foot or toes is sciatica and merits seeing your doctor if not resolving in a few days. Current advice is to keep going and continue normal daily activities including work, as rest may actually prolong back pain. Use simple pain killers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
You should seek medical attention if any of the following occur:
- The pain lasts more than 6 weeks
- Weakness of legs
- Numbness in the groin or buttocks
- Loss of control of bladder or bowels
- Aching pain at night disturbing sleep
- You have fever, sweating or chills
For minor burns, hold the affected area under cold water for at least 10 minutes or until the pain subsides. Remove jewellery etc. and cover the burn with clean, non-fluffy material to protect from infection. Cloth, a clean plastic bag or kitchen film all make good dressings. If a minor burn is larger than a postage stamp it requires medical attention. All deep burns of any size require urgent hospital treatment.
On all burns:
- Do not use lotions, ointments and creams
- Do not use adhesive dressings
- Do not break blisters
Even in this day and age there is still no magic cure for the common cold. Go to bed, take plenty of drinks. It is probably best to stay at home to avoid spreading your cold to others. Take it easy and rest if possible. Keep warm, and keep the atmosphere moist. Drink plenty of fluids, as you will lose a lot through mucus production and possibly perspiration. Avoid smoking if possible, as it will further irritate the throat and the lining of the nose. Take aspirin or paracetamol as per the dosage.
Chickenpox blisters are usually less than a quarter of an inch wide, have a reddish base, and appear in bouts over 2 to 4 days. The rash may be more extensive or severe in kids who have skin disorders such as eczema. Some children have a fever, abdominal pain, sore throat, headache, or a vague sick feeling a day or 2 before the rash appears. These symptoms may last for a few days, and fever stays in the range of 37.7°–38.8° Celsius, though in rare cases may be higher. Younger children often have milder symptoms and fewer blisters than older children or adults. Calamine lotion may be applied to soothe the often severe itching. Cool baths may also help. The most infectious period is from two or three days before the rash appears and up to five days after this date.
Children may return to school seven days after the outbreak of the most recent crop of spots.
Mumps is an infectious illness caused by a virus. In the 2004-2005 mumps epidemic, most of the people infected with the virus were aged between 15 and 24, but you can catch it at any age. It is now less common because of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination. It is most easily caught from people with the infection from two to six days before they get swollen glands to about nine days after. It usually takes about 14 to 21 days to develop symptoms after being exposed to the virus (the incubation period). About one in three children with mumps don’t get any symptoms. At first, the symptoms of mumps are similar to those of flu, and can include: fever, headache, sore throat, earache that is made worse by chewing, pain on chewing and swallowing, loss of appetite, tiredness and muscle aches.
If the pain is severe you should consult your doctor.
If you are having a nosebleed you should:
Sit down and firmly pinch the soft part of your nasal cavity, just above your nostrils, together for 10 minutes, lean forward and breathe through your mouth leaning forward drains the blood down your nose instead of down the back of your throat, maintain the pressure on your nose for 15 minutes (time this on the clock) in order for the blood to clot, place a covered ice pack on your cheek to help soothe the area, the bleeding should stop and not start again, unless your nose is knocked or picked, and avoid blowing your nose and strenuous activity for at least 12 hours after a nosebleed. Avoid hot drinks for a few hours after that. Try also not to wipe your nose too much, or to sneeze. If the bleeding persists, consult your doctor.
Firstly apply a cold compress, containing ice if possible, for 15 to 30 minutes. A bag of frozen peas is ideal for this. This will reduce blood flow to the sprained area and, therefore, minimise bruising and subsequent swelling. Apply, firmly, a crepe bandage and give the sprain plenty of rest until the discomfort has subsided. If possible, keep the sprained joint raised. This will make it more comfortable and less swollen.
Treat as for other burns with cold water to remove the heat. Calamine lotion will relieve the irritation whilst paracetamol will also help. Children are particularly susceptible to sunburn and great care should be taken to avoid over-exposure to the harmful effects of the sun. Always wear a high factor sun cream to prevent sun burn.
- Insect Bites and Stings
If you are stung by a wasp, bee, hornet, etc, then scrape out the sting as quickly as possible. Do not pluck it out as this may squeeze more venom into the skin. In most cases the sting causes pain and slight swelling, but has little other effect. Some people are allergic to stings and can develop reactions that can be life-threatening. Call an ambulance immediately if you suspect an allergic reaction soon after being stung. Insect bites (not stings) rarely cause serious allergic reactions but can cause small itchy lumps to appear on the skin. Itch may be eased by a soothing ointment, antihistamine tablets, or steroid cream. Some insects infest pets, furniture, etc, and can cause repeated bites. Antihistamine tablets can be obtained from the chemist without prescription and will usually relieve most symptoms.
- Fever in Children
It is worthwhile purchasing a digital electronic thermometer, which is best placed in the child’s armpit to record the temperature – forehead thermometers are less accurate. The infra-red type that measures the temperature of the ear drum is the most reliable. Significant fever is defined as a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or more. Most cases are viral and will recover rapidly. Use paracetamol or ibuprofen if needed to lower the temperature, but we no longer recommend tepid sponging. Give plenty of fluids.
However, there are circumstances when you need to seek medical advice:
- An infant under 3 months
- Fever lasing more than 5 days
- A rash that doesn’t blanch on pressure – see below
- Unusual sleepiness
- Dry nappies or not passing much urine
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty breathing
The glass test is used on rashes to exclude serious illness. Press a clear glass or plastic tumbler firmly onto the affected skin; the rash should fade or blanch as blood is squeezed out of the skin – if it doesn’t, seek urgent medical attention.
- Minor Cuts and Grazes
Wash the wound thoroughly with water and a little soap. To stop bleeding apply a clean handkerchief or dressing firmly to the wound for about five minutes. Cover with a clean, dry dressing.
- Diarrhoea and Vomiting
Many babies have diarrhoea and vomiting 3 times a year. Most vomiting gets better within 3 days and diarrhoea within a week, but 2 weeks is possible. Medication is rarely of any benefit. Give small amount of fluids often, even to a child who is vomiting. Avoid fruit juices and carbonated drinks. In severe cases an oral rehydration mixture is recommended that can be bought from Pharmacies. If a child is hungry and willing to take feeds, continue them. Continue breast feeding. There is no need to starve the patient. A diet of bland carbohydrate such as rice and soups is a good start during recovery. A child under 1 year ill for more than 2 days should see a doctor. If there is a fever, see specific advice.
Signs of worsening illness to look out for are:
- Decreased urine output or few or dry nappies
- Dry mouth or tongue
- Pale or cold skin
- Blood in motions
- Lethargy or unusual sleepiness
Gastroenteritis in adults is rarely serious. Drink plenty of fluids, say 200ml after each loose stool. If you are vomiting, take small sips of fluid slowly. Resume a normal diet as soon as you feel well enough. For diarrhoea, over the counter medication such as loperamide is useful.
Seek medical advice if:
- There is blood in the stools
- You have worsening abdominal pain
- You develop a high fever
- There is drowsiness or confusion
- You have diarrhoea for more than a week
- You have recently come back from abroad
- You have recently been discharged from hospital
- German Measles (Rubella)
Symptoms of German measles can include any of the following: Slight fever sometimes accompanied by a runny nose. Swollen glands behind the ears and around the neck, loss of appetite, sore throat, rash that starts on the face and then spreads to the body. This rash usually lasts for about 3 days and usually covers the body, arms and legs in small pink patches about 2-4mm, and doesn’t itch. No other symptoms are usually present apart from occasional aching joints. It is infectious from two days before the rash appears, until the rash disappears in about four or five days from that date. The only danger is to unborn babies and, therefore, it is important that all contacts are informed in order that anyone who may be pregnant may contact their doctor.
The symptoms of measles usually begin to develop about 7-11 days after the person first becomes infected. The first symptoms are normally similar to those of a bad cold: fever, runny nose, sore throat and a cough. A few days later a bright red, blotchy rash breaks out on the forehead, face and neck. Within a few days the rash spreads to the body, arms and legs, by which time the rash will begin to fade from the face. Measles is most infectious from two or three days before the rash appears until eight or ten days after that date. Though the rash is very dramatic, measles is accompanied by more upsetting symptoms. The whites of the eyes and inside the nose become sore, red and watery. A cough develops and many patients also suffer from earache. Paracetamol syrup and a simple cough linctus will help. The patient will also find comfort staying away from bright sunlight in a shaded room. If the symptoms are very distressing contact your doctor.
PLEASE NOTE: Immunisations can prevent this distressing and sometimes even dangerous disease.