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Self Help:

Many aches and pains can be simply treated at home without the need to consult a doctor. This section provides some useful information about these common problems.

For comprehensive and in-depth self-help, we recommend you visit the NHS-Direct website's Common Health Questions page.

NHS-Direct Tel 0845 4647


Health Warning:

Whilst the advice offered on this page is relevant for most people, anyone with any long-term medical conditions or taking medication for any condition should consult their pharmacist or doctor before taking or using medicines purchased over the counter.

Back Pain:

The anatomy of the spine is very complex and has to support the whole weight of your body. It is therefore not surprising that poor posture, bad lifting habits, obesity and so on, can put strain on your back muscles and cause pain.

Common backache can be eased by taking pain killers and gentle exercise. The old fashioned remedy of taking to your bed and not moving can actually make the pain worse. If the pain persists for more than a few days, or spreads to the legs (sciatica) consult your Doctor.

Burns & Scalds:

Immediately apply copious amounts of cold water to the burn area. If the burn is larger than 4 or 5 inches in diameter or if the skin is broken, consult your doctor as soon as possible. Simple pain killers (aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen) may help to make you feel more comfortable.

Colds & Flu:

Most adults will get at least one cold each year and children may get several. Colds usually start to improve after 5-7 days in adults but can last longer in children. Symptoms include fever, headache, runny nose, sore throat and cough. It is caused by a virus infection and antibiotics have no effect on the course of the illness. Simple painkillers, decongestants and rest will help ease the symptoms.

Occasionally complications such as severe earache, tonsillitis or chest infection may develop. These may require treatment from your doctor.

The term 'flu' is over-used. It should refer to the specific infection influenza. This occurs in epidemics every few years and is a particular risk for the elderly or customers with chronic heart or lung problems. These customers should request flu vaccinations in October each year.

Chicken Pox:

Small blisters appear in crops over several days. These eventually turn crusty and fall off after a few days. There is no cure for chicken pox and children usually do not need to consult a Doctor. Chicken pox in adults, particularly if pregnant, can be a more serious infection and medical advice should be sought.

Itching may be eased a little by calamine lotion and cool baths.

The most infectious period is from 2 or 3 days before the rash appears until the last spots have scabbed over. Children may then return to school.

Minor Cuts & Grazes:

Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water. To stop bleeding apply a clean dressing firmly to the wound for about 5 minutes, then cover with a clean, dry dressing.

Dirty wounds that are contaminated with soil etc are at risk of tetanus - ask the pharmacist for advice if you have not had a booster in the last 10 years.

Diarrhoea & Vomiting:

There are two common causes for this illness - food poisoning and viral infections which can be passed from person to person and are very infectious. Careful hand washing will reduce the risk of transmission. In the majority of cases the illness will settle by itself within 2-5 days.

It is very important to replace lost fluid, initially with small frequent sips of clear fluid. An oral rehydration solution e.g. Dioralyte may be useful for all, especially babies & young children - ask the pharmacist for advice.

Babies are at most risk from dehydration and you should seek advise from your Doctor if vomiting continues for more than 24 hours.


This is a common condition and usually presents as an itchy scalp. A variety of treatments are available from the pharmacy.

Don't worry, headlice are not a reflection of your personal hygiene, they like a clean head !

Nose Bleeds:

Sit in a chair, leaning slightly forward with your mouth open, ie not head between legs as this will increase pressure, and pinch your nose just below the bone for approximately 10 minutes, by which time the bleeding should have stopped. Try to avoid blowing your nose as you may dislodge the clot and cause further bleeding.


The treatment for sprains is R.I.C.E - Rest, Ice (e.g. packs of frozen peas wrapped in a towel), Compression (elastic support such as Tubigrip) and Elevation.

Ice packs should not be applied for more than ten minutes at a time.

Pain killers (e.g. paracetamol) will help reduce the pain.

Stings & Insect Bites:

Antihistamine tablets or syrup and creams to apply to the bite or sting are available from the pharmacy without prescription and will usually relieve most symptoms.

Note: Bee stings should be scraped away rather than 'plucked' in order to avoid squeezing the contents of the venom sac into the wound.


Treat as for other burns (see above) with cold water to remove the heat. Calamine lotion will relieve the irritation whilst paracetamol will also help.

Children are particularly susceptible to sunburn. Prevention is better than cure. Use a good sunscreen, wear a hat, cover up and avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm.

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