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Self treatment of common illnesses

You can get information and advice from, or you can ring NHS 111 to speak to an expert (calls are free from mobile and landlines). 

The following advice is intended to provide information on how to deal with minor problems. If symptoms are severe or prolonged, or fail to respond to simple measures, then a doctor should be consulted.

Diarrhoea and Vomiting

A sudden onset of diarrhoea and vomiting in an otherwise healthy child or adult is usually due to gastroenteritis. This is an infection of the bowel most often caused by a virus. There is no specific cure for gastroenteritis; the infection usually settles on its own within three to four days. Sufferers should drink plenty of fluids to replace that lost in the diarrhoea. Oral rehydration sachets (available from your chemist) are useful for babies and children. Made up with water, they can replace milk and help replace lost minerals. It is wise to avoid milk or dairy products and foods containing protein (eg meat, cheese and eggs) because these may aggravate the diarrhoea. You should consult your doctor if the symptoms are severe or persist or if the diarrhoea contains blood.

Sore Throats

Sore throats are very common in both adults and children and are usually caused by a virus. Unfortunately, there is no treatment guaranteed to shorten the duration of these infections; simple remedies to relieve the pain are best. If the patient can gargle, regular gargles of soluble aspirin should help. Children should be given regular paracetamol (never give aspirin to children under the age of 12). Temperature, headaches and general aches and pains may also occur with sore throats. Most sore throats will settle within a week. Sometimes they will occur as part of a cold.

Colds and Flu

Coughs, runny nose, temperature, general aches and pains, loss of appetite, headaches and sore throats can all occur in colds and flu. There is still no cure for the common cold and simple remedies are the best. Regular paracetamol, drinking plenty of fluids and resting will make you feel better while the virus passes through your system. Most colds will settle within seven to ten days. Antibiotics will make no difference.

High Temperature (Fever)

Every household should have a thermometer for use when family members are feverish. The normal body temperature is 37°C (98.4°F). A high temperature is a sign of infection and is usually accompanied by other symptoms; most are caused by colds. Regardless of the cause of a temperature, patients will always feel better if their temperature is lowered. This can be done with paracetamol (aspirin can be used for children over 12 years old). 

Babies and Children

It is normal for babies and children to have a lot of infections. Each infection stores up immunity for later life. Sometimes they will just get over one infection only to get another one straight away. This is quite common. Children will feel much better (and sleep better) if their temperature is lowered. Undressing and tepid sponging may also be required to cool the baby or child. If you have children you should always keep paracetamol available (kept in a safe place).

Back Pain

Back pain is the commonest cause of time off work. Most cases are muscular strains caused by exertion or awkward movements. Mild cases settle with paracetamol and rest. Bad posture is to blame for many troublesome back pains. Remember, never stoop to lift - bend your knees, keep your back straight and hold the weight close to your body.

You may find the following leaflet useful Back pain advice leaflet


Head Lice

These creatures prefer clean hair and are not a sign of poor hygiene. Medicated shampoos can be obtained from a chemist without prescription.

Bites and Stings

Your chemist will provide antihistamine tablets to ease the itching if you are bitten.


Sit in a chair (leaning forward with your mouth open) and pinch your nose just below the bone for about 10 minutes by which time the bleeding will usually have stopped. If the bleeding continues, consult your doctor.


On the first day a rash appears with small red spots about 3 - 4mm wide. Within a few hours these develop small blisters at the centre. During the next three or four days, further spots will appear and the earlier ones will turn crusty and fall off. Calamine lotion may be applied to help the itching. The most infectious period is two or three days before the rash appears until the last crusts have formed dry centres, usually seven to ten days after the rash started. Children may return to school as soon as the last crusts have dropped off.


Prevention is better than cure. High factor sun cream should be used. 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 overexposure to the harmful effects of the sun. Wear a hat with a brim and stay in the shade where possible.

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