How to get ahead of the cold with the NHS
Nights are drawing in, thick jumpers are resurrected from the winter wardrobe, and Christmas lights adorn our streets again - it’s officially winter. But with the festive spirit comes the not-so-welcome seasonal colds, flu and other illnesses. Beating the winter blues can seem like an uphill battle at times but luckily, there are small steps you can take to stay well, prevent an illness getting worse, and get well again sooner.
The NHS ‘Help Us, Help you’ campaign and Public Health England’s ‘Flu Vaccination’ and ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaigns are there to help you manage your health during winter. We’ve put together a handy guidebook outlining resources to help you through the darkening days.
What happens in winter?
Hot chocolates, ice-skating, and Christmas are around the corner. There are lots of reasons to love the winter months. Unfortunately, plummeting temperatures can also be harmful, especially for people aged 65 or older or if you have a underlying health condition.
Stay well this winter
The good news is, there are lots of easy things you can do to keep the family well this winter! Here are some of our top tips:
- Layer your clothing to stay warm.
- If you can, heat your home to at least 18°C (65°F) or warmer if you prefer.
- If you have prescriptions, make sure to collect them from the pharmacy in good time, as some GP surgeries and pharmacies may close over the Christmas holiday period.
- Check in on your elderly relatives, friends and neighbours to make sure that they’re staying well as temperatures drop.
Help Us, Help You by using the right service for your needs
Don’t forget that your local pharmacy is a great first port of call to get clinical advice, over-the-counter medication, or even a private consultation. Pharmacies can help with minor illnesses such as coughs, colds, sore throats, earaches, eye infections and small cuts. There’s no need to book for an appointment either so you can save yourself an extra phone call, too!
All pharmacists train for five years so they can manage your minor illnesses and provide health and wellbeing advice you can trust. If symptoms suggest it’s something more serious, pharmacists have the right clinical training to make sure you get the help you need immediately.
It’s pretty practical, too. Did you know that nine in 10 people live less than a 20-minute walk away from a pharmacy? Find your nearest service at nhs.uk/pharmacyadvice.
Contact NHS 111
If you need help fast and you’re not sure what to do, NHS 111 is here to help and is available online via 111.nhs.uk as well as over the phone. NHS 111 advisors are fully trained to handle urgent concerns and to help you get the right medical care.
NHS 111 accessed online at 111.nhs.uk is just like calling 111, as you will be asked to answer questions about your symptoms on the website (for people aged 5 and over only) – the service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
To find out more about how to stay well this winter, check out nhs.uk/winteradvice.
Free prescriptions – who can get them?
Are you unsure whether or not you’re able to receive free prescriptions on the NHS? If you fall under any of these categories, you are eligible for free prescriptions:
- People who are over 60
- Children under 16
- Students under 19 and in full time education
- People who have an illness that exempts them from prescription charges (with a valid medical exemption certificate)
- Pregnant women (with a valid Maternity Exemption Certificate)
- Those who have given birth in the last 12 months (with a valid Maternity Exemption Certificate)
- Certain benefits entitle people to free prescriptions
If you’re on benefits, you need to check which type, as not all benefits entitle you to free prescriptions. To help you check if you should be paying for prescriptions, or if you can get help with NHS costs, the NHS has developed a quick and easy online eligibility checker. Find it here: nhs.uk/checkbeforeyoutick
It’s important to be aware of your status – if you claim a free prescription incorrectly, you could face a penalty charge of up to £100.
Make sure you know your prescription fees (or lack of) and Check Before You Tick.
What about getting the flu vaccine for free?
Body aching? Dry, chesty cough? Fever of 38 °C (100.4°F)? Tiredness or exhaustion? These are some of the symptoms you might experience with the flu. For most of us, taking paracetamol or ibuprofen, drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration, getting lots of rest and keeping warm should help you recover from the flu after a week or two, however there are some people in vulnerable groups who, if they get the flu, can be very seriously affected.
You can do your part by helping to reduce the spread of flu. Good hand hygiene can help stop people catching the flu and passing it to others. Carry tissues to catch coughs and sneezes, bin the used tissues as soon as possible, and wash your hands to kill the germs. If you’re worried you have the flu and need further medical assistance, contact NHS 111 online or by phone for advice, without visiting the GP surgeries or hospitals where you could infect more vulnerable people.
The best way to protect yourself or loved ones is to get the updated flu vaccine every year.
Do I need the flu vaccine?
People who are eligible and should receive the free flu vaccine are:
- People 65 and over
- Adults with underlying or long-term health conditions, such as COPD, bronchitis, emphysema, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease or a chronic neurological disease like multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy
- Children aged 2 and 3 years old, but not 4 years or older, on 31st August 2019
- Children in school years reception and years 1 – 6
- Pregnant women
- Health workers
Where can I get it from?
If you fall into one of the vulnerable categories, you can get it from:
- Your GP surgery
- Adults can get the flu vaccine from a pharmacy offering the service
- Children in school, from reception to year 6
- Children aged 2 to 3 can get it from their GP
- Some midwifery services
- Health workers will be offered it by their employer
Not only can the flu be especially horrible for young children, but children are what’s known as ‘super spreaders’. This means that giving them the nasal spray vaccine will help prevent them from becoming unwell and people around them, too!
If you’ve got questions about flu vaccines, explore more here.
And remember, antibiotics won’t work against the flu…
Antibiotics are undoubtedly one of the biggest miracles in modern medicine. They work wonders in preventing bacteria from reproducing and spreading which means they can treat serious, sometimes life-threatening bacterial infections such as meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis.
Because antibiotics only work against bacteria, they won’t help with any viral infection such as coughs, colds and the flu.
What’s more, the bacteria that antibiotics fight against are constantly evolving. When the antibiotics kill bacteria, some resistant strains survive and spread, resulting in some antimicrobial resistant (AMR) bacteria. When this happens, antibiotics won’t work.
It’s a serious issue. Experts predict that in just over 30 years, antibiotic resistance will kill more people than cancer and diabetes combined. In 2050, deaths could be as high as ten million a year.
Part of the causes of antibiotic resistance is misuse and overuse. Dr Phillippa Kaye, a media medic, urges the importance of reducing the amount of antibiotics prescribed:
“We need to get to a stage where antibiotics are not used to ‘catch all’ illnesses or as a ‘just in case’ back-up option. The public need to understand antibiotics are not always the most appropriate course of treatment and are only effective against bacteria and not viruses – and most coughs and colds are viral.”
Always follow your doctor’s advice
If you do have a bacterial infection and have been prescribed antibiotics by your doctor, always make sure to follow their advice – take them as recommended, don’t try to save them for later and don’t share them with anyone else as this can make things much worse.
For more information on the NHS use the links below.
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