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Every year, millions of us visit our GP with minor health problems can be easily resolved without a doctor's appointment.
It is estimated that every year, 50 million visits to the GP are made for minor ailments such as coughs and colds, mild eczema, and athlete's foot. But by visiting your pharmacy instead, you could save yourself time and trouble.
Keeping a well stocked medicine cabinet at home can help you treat many minor ailments. Colds, coughs, indigestion and many other minor complaints can all be treated with medicines that are available over the counter.
Your pharmacist can advise on what you might find useful to keep in your medicine cabinet. Always follow the instructions on the medicine label and consult your doctor if the illness continues or becomes more severe.
Pharmacists offer professional free health advice at any time - you don't need an appointment. From coughs and colds to aches and pains, they can give you expert help on everyday illnesses. They can answer questions about prescribed and over-the-counter medicines.
Pharmacists can also advise on health eating, obesity and giving up smoking. Some pharmacists have private areas where you can talk in confidence. They may suggest you visit your GP for more serious symptoms. It is possible to purchase many medicines from the chemist without a prescription. Watch this short video on how you can get the most out of your local pharmacy
Call 111 if :
Major A&E departments assess and treat patients who have serious injuries or illnesses. Generally, you should visit A&E or call 999 for emergencies, such as:
If you're injured or seriously ill, you should go, or be taken, to A&E. If an ambulance is needed you can call 999, the emergency phone number in the UK. You can also dial 112, which is the equivalent for the European Union.
Major A&E departments offer access 365 days a year and usually open 24 hours a day. Be aware that not all hospitals have an A&E department.
Antibiotics do not kill the viruses that cause colds and flu. Rest, fluids and paracetamol (or aspirin) can help the symptoms. Hot "honey and lemon" drinks, sucking boiled sweets or inhaling steam can help relieve coughing. Also, cold remedies may be obtained from a pharmacist.
You should contact a doctor if you cough up any blood, if you have difficulty breathing or if the cough persists for more than two weeks.
With a cold, earache occurs when the Eustachian tube between the ear and the throat becomes blocked with mucus. This will usually settle after a few days but infection can occur and may cause a discharge from the ear.
Give paracetamol for the pain.
Contact your doctor if the earache persists for more than three days, if the ear is discharging, or if the pain is very severe.
Conjunctivitis often occurs with cold viruses. It is usually harmless and will disappear by itself.
Try bathing the eye with cool boiled water.
Contact your doctor if the eye is discharging pus, if it does not get better after five days, or if vision is disturbed.
Diarrhoea is defined as three or more liquid bowel movements in a day, and may occur with vomiting and abdominal cramps. It is usually caused by viral infections or food poisoning. Nearly all cases should clear themselves in two to five days, without needing to take any medicines.
Stop all food for several hours or until you are feeling better. Ensure that frequent drinks of water, dilute fruit juice or squash are taken, but stop all dairy products for three days. Eat bland food such as boiled rice or pasta, dry toast or crackers. Avoid spicy or fatty food, alcohol and coffee for at least 48 hours or until all symptoms have disappeared.
Contact your doctor if you are losing too much fluid and becoming dehydrated, if there is blood in the diarrhoea, if you may have picked up an infection abroad, or if the diarrhoea goes on for longer than a week. If your work involves handling food, you may need to stay off work and provide samples to send to the laboratory.
Give frequent drinks of water or dilute juice. Try to restart feeding after the first four hours. Breast fed babies will need an increased number of feeds.
Contact your doctor if symptoms persist for 24 hours, if the baby does not want to drink, is drowsy or has a high temperature.
The most common causes of constipation are lack of high fibre foods, not drinking enough fluids or lack of exercise.
Try increasing fibre, drinking plenty of water and regular exercise.
Contact your doctor if you have blood or mucous mixed in the stool, or if your bowel pattern changes to intermittent diarrhoea as well.
This starts as a rash appearing as small patches a few millimetres across, which rapidly develop into small blisters. Over the next few days, further crops of these blisters will appear, while the earlier ones develop crusts which fall off.
Treatment is the application of Calamine lotion to the spots to soothe the itching. Should spots develop in the mouth, cool drinks will soothe. Children may return to school after no new spots have appeared for four days (antibiotics have no effect on this virus infection).
Although a nose bleed is very alarming, most will stop if you tip your head forward and squeeze the fleshy bit below the bone for a full 10 minutes. Spit out any blood which you might swallow as this will make you feel sick. If the nose bleed does not stop after this, your nose may need packing and you should contact the doctor who may send you to casualty for this to be done.
Back pain is usually caused by muscle spasm and is felt as stiffness. It is mostly confined to the back, but can pass into the buttock or upper leg. Pain passing below the knee may indicate a more serious cause such as pressure on the spinal cord.
Keeping as active as possible can speed recovery and prevent long term problems.
Take paracetamol, codeine or ibuprofen to enable you to keep active and continue with normal daily activities. Swimming, Yoga or Pilates exercises may help.
Contact your doctor if the pain goes to one leg and persists longer than a week, or if you get an area of numbness. If you are unable to pass urine, contact your doctor immediately.
Rest and elevate the affected limb, apply ice warapped in cloth to the affected area. A compression bandage may help.
Further advice on the above, together with a wide range of other issues, is available on the NHS Choices website. Please click here to access.
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