Winter Health Check

Seasonal Healthcare

In this article we’ll look at the most common conditions that people suffer with during winter, as well as how to help yourself to stay well.

Winter Health Check

This article has been medically approved by Pharmacist Sumaiya Patel - GPhC Reg No: 2215078


The cold weather can trigger or worsen some health conditions. In our article below, we’ll look at the most common winter health conditions and some top tips to stay well.

If you have a high temperature, a new and continuous cough, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste, you could be displaying the symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). You should visit the NHS 111 website for more information.

Eczema

Cold weather and itchy jumpers can create the perfect storm for those who suffer from eczema. Eczema, also known as Dermatitis, is a common skin condition that causes dry, scaly skin, redness, and itching. Sometimes the skin can blister and weep, which can often lead to an infection. During a flare-up, you may need to try different medicines and treatments to manage your eczema. These treatments can include emollients, antihistamines, corticosteroid creams or ointments, and light therapy. To learn more about eczema, including treatments and top tips for reducing flare-ups, check out our article ‘The 7 Different Types of Eczema’.

Sore Throat

Sore throats are common in winter. They’re usually caused by viruses, although very occasionally they can be caused by bacteria.

A sore throat will usually go away on its own after about a week, but there are a few things you can do at home to soothe your throat:

  • Gargle with warm, salty water
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Eat cold or soft foods
  • Avoid smoking and smoky places
  • Suck ice cubes, ice lollies, or hard sweets
  • Get plenty of rest

To relieve pain and discomfort, you can use paracetamol, ibuprofen, medicated lozenges, or anaesthetic sprays.

You should see your GP if your sore throat doesn’t improve after a week, you often get sore throats, or if you’re worried about it. You should also see your GP if you have a sore throat and a very high temperature, if you feel hot and shivery, or have a weakened immune system.

Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is similar to a sore throat, but you may also have a high temperature, a headache, earache, painful swollen glands in your neck, and white, pus-filled spots on your tonsils.

Symptoms will usually clear up on their own after 3 to 4 days. While tonsillitis isn’t contagious, the infections that cause it are. To stop spreading these infections, you should stay off work or keep your child at home until you or your child are feeling better, use tissues when you cough or sneeze and throw them away, and wash your hands after coughing or sneezing.

To help to ease your symptoms, you should get plenty of rest, drink cold drinks, take paracetamol or ibuprofen, and gargle with warm, salty water. A pharmacist can also recommend lozenges, throat sprays, or antiseptic solutions that can further help to manage symptoms.

You should see your GP if you have white-puss filled spots on your tonsils, it’s too painful for you to eat or drink, or your symptoms don’t clear up after 4 days.

Common cold

While catching a cold is undoubtedly unpleasant, the symptoms will generally be milder than flu. While you will feel unwell, you can carry on as usual in most cases.

Typically, the symptoms of a cold will develop slowly and affect mainly your nose and throat. These symptoms can include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Mild cough
  • Sneezing
  • Aches and pains
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches

Using non-prescription medicines will enable you to treat the symptoms of your cold without needing to see a GP. A cold usually lasts between 7 to 10 days. To help yourself to feel better more quickly, you should get plenty of rest, keep warm, and drink plenty of water (around 6-8 glasses a day).

Flu

While many people will be able to recover from the flu on their own, it can make others seriously ill.

Flu symptoms come on very quickly and can include:

  • A sudden high temperature of 38°c or above
  • An aching body
  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • A dry cough
  • A sore throat
  • A headache
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea
  • Tummy pain
  • Feeling sick and being sick

To help yourself to get better more quickly, you should get plenty of rest, keep warm, drink enough water, and take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and treat aches and pains. A pharmacist will also be able to advise you on cold and flu treatments, but don’t take these while taking paracetamol or ibuprofen as it’s easy to take too much.

The flu is very infectious. You’re most likely to pass it on to others in the first 5 days after becoming unwell. To reduce the risk of spreading the flu, you should use tissues when you cough or sneeze and throw them away and wash your hands after coughing or sneezing.

Norovirus

Norovirus is a very contagious stomach bug that causes vomiting and diarrhoea. It is active all year round, but cases spike during winter. It can be very unpleasant, but it usually goes away on its own after about two days.

The main symptoms of norovirus are feeling sick, being sick, and diarrhoea. You may also have a temperature of 38°c or above, a headache and aching arms and legs. Your symptoms will start suddenly 1 to 2 days after being infected.

You can usually manage your symptoms at home. You should stay home until you are symptom free for two days and avoid meeting up with people during this time as it is when you are most infectious.

Stay home and get plenty of rest, drink a lot of fluids, eat when you feel able to, and take paracetamol if you are in discomfort or have a temperature. You should also ensure you are regularly washing your hands with soap and water, washing any clothing or bedding that has faeces or vomit on it, and cleaning toilets (mainly seats and flush handles), taps, surfaces, and door handles every day.

If you are struggling to keep water down or are showing signs of dehydration, or if you need to stop diarrhoea for a few hours, you should speak to a pharmacist. They may recommend oral rehydration sachets to drink or medicine to stop diarrhoea like loperamide.

Heart Attacks

Did you know that heart attacks are more common in winter? Cold weather can increase your risk of developing a blood clot, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Elderly people are especially vulnerable in the colder months.

To look after your heart in cold weather, you should:

  • Keep your home warm and stay indoors as much as possible
  • Move around regularly while indoors to keep warm
  • Have regular hot meals and drinks
  • Wrap up warm in layers of clothing
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