Self-care advice about a wide range of minor illnesses is available from the NHS on line visit: www.nhs.uk
Hay fever is a common condition that affects up to one in five people in the UK. There is currently no cure for hay fever, but most people with mild to moderate symptoms are able to relieve symptoms with over the counter (OTC) treatments recommended by a pharmacist.
As per the NHS Wirral CCG Self-Care Policy, which is available at: https://www.wirralccg.nhs.uk/media/6997/pol043-self-care-policyv4_250220.pdf, a prescription for treatment of mild to moderate hay fever will not routinely be offered by your GP as the condition is appropriate for self-care.
What is Hay fever
Hay fever is an allergic condition where the body’s immune system overreacts to a substance that is usually harmless. With hay fever the substance is a fine powder called pollen. There are several types of pollen, for example, from grasses, weeds or trees and they are produced at different times of the year.
Tree pollen: between February and June
Grass pollen: between May and July
Weed pollen: between June and September
The pollen causes the release of a chemical called histamine from cells in the nose, eyes and airways. This causes inflammation in the nose and eyes, and sometimes the sinuses and throat can also be affected. It often runs in families and is more likely to affect people who suffer from asthma and eczema.
Managing the condition
The severity of symptoms can vary, some people need medication to manage their symptoms and others can manage their condition by avoiding triggers. If treatment is needed a wide range of medications can be purchased from community pharmacies and supermarkets without seeing a doctor. These medicines are often cheaper than medicines on prescription.
Tips for avoidance
- Keep house and car windows closed, especially when the pollen count is high, in the morning and evening.
- Avoid large grassy areas, woodland, cutting the grass, pollutants and car fumes.
- Wear wrap-around sunglasses.
- Shower and change when you come indoors to wash pollen off.
- If possible, stay indoors when the pollen count is high.
- Use petroleum jelly inside your nose to block inhalation of pollen.
- vacuum regularly and dust with a damp cloth
- Do not dry washing outside to avoid pollen sticking to your clothes.
- Use a pollen filter for the air vents in the car.
Speak to the pharmacist:
OTC medicines can help to relieve symptoms and community pharmacists will be able to offer advice on the most suitable treatment:
- Oral antihistamines
- Nasal preparations (antihistamine/steroid nasal sprays)
- Oral decongestants
- Eye preparations
- Simple pain relief
See the GP if the patient:
- Is pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Has symptoms which are getting worse.
- Has symptoms that do not improve after taking medicines from the pharmacy in combination with measures to reduce exposure to pollen.
- To check the pollen count in your area, check out the Met Office’s pollen forecast for five days ahead, helping you stay one step ahead of your hay fever this summer.
More information on hay fever is available at:
Back pain is very common and usually improves within a few weeks or months.
Pain in the lower back (lumbago) is particularly common, although it can be felt anywhere along the spine, from the neck down to the hips.
In most cases the pain is not caused by anything serious and will usually get better over time.
There are things you can do to help relieve it. But sometimes the pain can last a long time or keep coming back.
How to relieve back pain
The following tips may help reduce your back pain and speed up your recovery:
- stay as active as possible and try to continue your daily activities – this is 1 of the most important things you can do, as resting for long periods is likely to make the pain worse
- try exercises and stretches for back pain; other activities such as walking, swimming, yoga and pilates may also be helpful
- take anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen – remember to check the medicine is safe for you to take and ask a pharmacist if you're not sure
- use hot or cold compression packs for short-term relief – you can buy these from a pharmacy, or a hot water bottle or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth or towel will work just as well
Although it can be difficult, it helps if you stay optimistic and recognise that your pain should get better. People who manage to stay positive despite their pain tend to recover quicker.
Back pain usually gets better on its own within a few weeks or months and you may not need to see a doctor or other healthcare professional.
But it's a good idea to get help if:
- the pain does not start to improve within a few weeks
- the pain stops you doing your day-to-day activities
- the pain is very severe or gets worse over time
- you're worried about the pain or struggling to cope
If you see a GP they will ask about your symptoms, examine your back and discuss possible treatments.
They may refer you to a specialist doctor or a physiotherapist for further help.
Alternatively, you may want to consider contacting a physiotherapist directly. Some NHS physiotherapists accept appointments without a doctor's referral, or you could choose to pay for private treatment.
Read more about how to get access to physiotherapy.
Treatments for back pain from a specialist
A GP, specialist or physiotherapist may recommend extra treatments if they do not think your pain will improve with self-help measures alone.
These may include:
- group exercise classes where you're taught exercises to strengthen your muscles and improve your posture
- manual therapy treatments, such as manipulating the spine and massage, which are usually done by a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath
- psychological support, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which can be a useful part of treatment if you're struggling to cope with pain
Some people choose to see a therapist for manual therapy without seeing a GP first. If you want to do this, you'll usually need to pay for private treatment.
Surgery is generally only considered in the small number of cases where back pain is caused by a specific medical condition.
Causes of back pain
It's often not possible to identify the cause of back pain. Doctors call this non-specific back pain.
Sometimes the pain may be from an injury such as a sprain or strain, but often it happens for no apparent reason. It's very rarely caused by anything serious.
Occasionally back pain can be caused by a medical condition such as:
- a slipped (prolapsed) disc – where a disc of cartilage in the spine presses on a nearby nerve
- sciatica – irritation of the nerve that runs from the pelvis to the feet
These conditions tend to cause additional symptoms, such as numbness, weakness or a tingling sensation, and they're treated differently from non-specific back pain.
Preventing back pain
It's difficult to prevent back pain, but the following tips may help reduce your risk:
- do regular back exercises and stretches – a GP or physiotherapist may be able to advise you about exercises to try
- stay active – doing regular exercise can help keep your back strong; adults are advised to do at least 150 minutes of exercise a week
- avoid sitting for long periods
- take care when lifting – read some safe lifting tips
- check your posture when sitting, using computers or tablets and watching television – find out how to sit correctly and get tips for laptop users
- ensure the mattress on your bed supports you properly
- lose weight through a combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise if you're overweight – being overweight can increase your risk of developing back pain
When to get immediate medical advice
You should contact a GP or NHS 111 immediately if you have back pain and:
- numbness or tingling around your genitals or buttocks
- difficulty peeing
- loss of bladder or bowel control – peeing or pooing yourself
- chest pain
- a high temperature
- unintentional weight loss
- a swelling or a deformity in your back
- it does not improve after resting or is worse at night
- it started after a serious accident, such as after a car accident
- the pain is so bad you're having problems sleeping
- pain is made worse when sneezing, coughing or pooing
- the pain is coming from the top of your back, between your shoulders, rather than your lower back
These problems could be a sign of something more serious and need to be checked urgently.
How you can treat a cough yourself
There's usually no need to see a GP.
- drink plenty of fluids
You could also try:
- paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat any pain
- hot lemon and honey (not suitable for babies under 1 year old)
- a herbal medicine called pelargonium (suitable for people aged 12 or over)
But there's limited evidence to show these work.
How to make a hot lemon and honey drink
Hot lemon with honey has a similar effect to cough medicines.
A pharmacist can help if you have a cough
If you have a cough, you can ask a pharmacist about:
- cough syrup
- cough medicine (some cough medicines should not be given to children under 12)
- cough sweets
These will not stop your cough, but may help you cough less.
Decongestants and cough medicines containing codeine will not stop your cough.
Call a pharmacy or contact them online before going in person. You can get medicines delivered or ask someone to collect them.
Sore throats are very common and usually nothing to worry about. They normally get better by themselves within a week.
How to treat a sore throat yourself
To help soothe a sore throat and shorten how long it lasts, you can:
- gargle with warm, salty water (children should not try this)
- drink plenty of water
- eat cool or soft foods
- avoid smoking or smoky places
- suck ice cubes, ice lollies or hard sweets – but do not give young children anything small and hard to suck because of the risk of choking
You can often treat a cold without seeing a GP. You should begin to feel better in about 1 to 2 weeks.
Check if you have a cold
Cold symptoms come on gradually and can include:
- a blocked or runny nose
- a sore throat
- muscle aches
- a raised temperature
- pressure in your ears and face
- loss of taste and smell
The symptoms are the same in adults and children. Sometimes symptoms last longer in children.Telling the difference between cold and flu
Important:Could it be coronavirus (COVID-19)?
If you have a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste, it could be COVID-19.
How you can treat a cold yourself
To help you get better more quickly:
- rest and sleep
- keep warm
- drink plenty of water (fruit juice or squash mixed with water is OK) to avoid dehydration
- gargle salt water to soothe a sore throat (not suitable for children)
A pharmacist can help with cold medicines
You can buy cough and cold medicines from pharmacies or supermarkets. A pharmacist can advise you on the best medicine.
- ease aches or lower a temperature with painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen
- relieve a blocked nose with decongestant sprays or tablets
Decongestants should not be given to children under 6. Children aged 6 to 12 should take them for no longer than 5 days.
Be careful not to use cough and cold medicines if you're taking paracetamol and ibuprofen tablets. Cough and cold medicines often also contain paracetamol and ibuprofen so it can be easy to take more than the recommended dose.
Some are not suitable for children, babies and pregnant women.
There's little evidence that supplements (such as vitamin C, echinacea or garlic) prevent colds or speed up recovery.
Call a pharmacy or contact them online before going in person. You can get medicines delivered or ask someone to collect them.
Non-urgent advice:See a GP if:
- your symptoms do not improve after 3 weeks
- your symptoms get suddenly worse
- your temperature is very high or you feel hot and shivery
- you're concerned about your child's symptoms
- you're feeling short of breath or develop chest pain
- you have a long-term medical condition – for example, diabetes, or a heart, lung or kidney condition
- you have a weakened immune system – for example, because you're having chemotherapy
GPs do not recommend antibiotics for colds because they will not relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery.
Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections, and colds are caused by viruses.
How to avoid spreading a cold
Colds are caused by viruses and easily spread to other people. You're infectious until all your symptoms have gone. This usually takes 1 to 2 weeks.
Colds are spread by germs from coughs and sneezes, which can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.
To reduce the risk of spreading a cold:
- wash your hands often with warm water and soap
- use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze
- bin used tissues as quickly as possible
How to prevent catching a cold
A person with a cold can start spreading it from a few days before their symptoms begin until the symptoms have finished.
The best ways to avoid catching a cold are:
- washing your hands with warm water and soap
- not sharing towels or household items (like cups) with someone who has a cold
- not touching your eyes or nose in case you have come into contact with the virus – it can infect the body this way
- staying fit and healthy
The flu vaccine helps prevent flu but not colds.See how to wash your hands correctly
Sprains and strains are common injuries affecting the muscles and ligaments. Most can be treated at home without seeing a GP.
Check if you have a sprain or strain
It's likely to be a sprain or strain if:
- you have pain, tenderness or weakness – often around your ankle, foot, wrist, thumb, knee, leg or back
- the injured area is swollen or bruised
- you cannot put weight on the injury or use it normally
- you have muscle spasms or cramping – where your muscles painfully tighten on their own
Is it a sprain or a strain?
How to treat sprains and strains yourself
For the first couple of days, follow the 4 steps known as RICE therapy to help bring down swelling and support the injury:
- Rest – stop any exercise or activities and try not to put any weight on the injury.
- Ice – apply an ice pack (or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a tea towel) to the injury for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
- Compression – wrap a bandage around the injury to support it.
- Elevate – keep it raised on a pillow as much as possible.
To help prevent swelling, try to avoid heat (such as hot baths and heat packs), alcohol and massages for the first couple of days.
When you can move the injured area without pain stopping you, try to keep moving it so the joint or muscle does not become stiff.
A pharmacist can help with sprains and strains
Speak to a pharmacist about the best treatment for you. They might suggest tablets, or a cream or gel you rub on the skin.
If needed, you can take ibuprofen tablets, capsules or syrup that you swallow.
How long it takes for a sprain or strain to heal
After 2 weeks, most sprains and strains will feel better.
Avoid strenuous exercise such as running for up to 8 weeks, as there's a risk of further damage.
Severe sprains and strains can take months to get back to normal.
You cannot always prevent sprains and strains
Sprains and strains happen when you overstretch or twist a muscle.
Not warming up before exercising, tired muscles and playing sport are common causes.
Urgent advice:Get advice from 111 now if:
- the injury is not feeling any better after treating it yourself
- the pain or swelling is getting worse
- you also have a very high temperature or feel hot and shivery – this could be an infection
111 will tell you what to do. They can tell you the right place to get help if you need to see someone.Other ways to get help
Treatment at a minor injuries unit
You may be given self-care advice or prescribed a stronger painkiller.
If you need an X-ray, it might be possible to have one at the unit, or you may be referred to hospital.
Physiotherapy for sprains and strains
If you have a sprain or strain that's taking longer than usual to get better, a GP may be able to refer you to a physiotherapist.
Physiotherapy from the NHS might not be available everywhere and waiting times can be long. You can also get it privately.
Immediate action required:Go to A&E or call 999 if:
- you heard a crack when you had your injury
- the injured body part has changed shape or pointing at an odd angle
- the injury is numb, discoloured or cold to touch
You may have broken a bone and will need an X-ray.
Most headaches go away on their own and are not a sign of something more serious.
How you can ease headaches yourself
Headaches can last between 30 minutes and several hours.
do not drink alcohol
do not skip meals (even if you might not feel like eating anything)
do not sleep more than you usually would – it can make the headache worse
do not strain your eyes for a long time – for example, by looking at a screen
Non-urgent advice:See a GP if:
Urgent advice:Get an urgent GP appointment or call 111 if:
You or your child has a severe headache and:
- jaw pain when eating
- blurred or double vision
- a sore scalp
- other symptoms, such as numbness or weakness in the arms or legs
Also get an urgent GP appointment or call 111 if your child is under 12 and has any 1 of the following:
- a headache that wakes them at night
- a headache when they wake up in the morning
- a headache that gets progressively worse
- a headache triggered or made worse by coughing, sneezing or bending down
- a headache with vomiting
- a headache with a squint (where the eyes point in different directions) or an inability to look upward
Immediate action required:Call 999 or go to A&E if you or your child:
- has a head injury – for example, from a fall or accident
- has a headache that came on suddenly and is extremely painful
You or your child has an extremely painful headache and:
- sudden problems speaking or remembering things
- loss of vision
- feel drowsy or confused
- has a very high temperature and symptoms of meningitis
- the white part of the eye is red
Also call 999 or go to A&E if your child is under 12 and has any 1 of the following:
- a headache with vision problems or difficulty speaking, swallowing, balancing or walking
- a headache with drowsiness or a persistent lack of energy
- a headache that starts within 5 days of a head injury
What can cause headaches
The most common reasons are:
What is a high temperature?
Normal body temperature is different for everyone and changes during the day.
A high temperature is usually considered to be 38C or above. This is sometimes called a fever.
Many things can cause a high temperature, but it's usually caused by your body fighting an infection.
Check if you have a high temperature
You may have a high temperature if:
- your chest or back feel hotter than usual
- you have other symptoms, such as shivering (chills), sweating or warm, red skin
- a thermometer says your temperature is 38C or above
Important:Could it be coronavirus (COVID-19)?
A high temperature could be COVID-19.
Do I need to take my temperature?
You do not need to take your temperature using a thermometer, but you can if you have one.
Make sure you use it correctly to help get an accurate result. See how to take a temperature.
If you feel hot or shivery, you may have a high temperature even if a thermometer says your temperature is below 38C.
Treating a high temperature
It can help to:
A high temperature is very common in young children. The temperature usually returns to normal within 3 or 4 days.
What is a high temperature?
A normal temperature in babies and children is about 36.4C, but this can vary slightly from child to child.
A high temperature is 38C or more.
A high temperature is the body's natural response to fighting infections like coughs and colds.
Many things can cause a high temperature in children, from common childhood illnesses like chickenpox and tonsillitis, to vaccinations.
Checking a high temperature
Your child might:
- feel hotter than usual when you touch their back or chest
- feel sweaty
- look or feel unwell
Use a digital thermometer, which you can buy from pharmacies and supermarkets, to take your child's temperature.
What to do if your child has a high temperature
You can usually look after your child or baby at home. The temperature should go down over 3 or 4 day
do not undress your child or sponge them down to cool them, a high temperature is a natural and healthy response to infection
do not cover them up in too many clothes or bedclothes
do not give aspirin to children under 16 years of age
do not combine ibuprofen and paracetamol, unless a GP tells you to
do not give paracetamol to a child under 2 months
do not give ibuprofen to a child under 3 months or under 5kg
do not give ibuprofen to children with asthma
Important: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
At the moment it can be hard to know what to do if your child is unwell.
A high temperature can lead to a child being very unwell quickly. It's important to get medical help if you need it.
Urgent advice:Call 111 or your GP surgery now if your child:
- is under 3 months old and has a temperature of 38C or higher, or you think they have a high temperature
- is 3 to 6 months old and has a temperature of 39C or higher, or you think they have a high temperature
- has other signs of illness, such as a rash, as well as a high temperature
- has a high temperature that's lasted for 5 days or more
- does not want to eat, or is not their usual self and you're worried
- has a high temperature that does not come down with paracetamol
- is dehydrated – such as nappies that are not very wet, sunken eyes, and no tears when they're crying
Immediate action required:Call 999 if your child:
- has a stiff neck
- has a rash that does not fade when you press a glass against it (use the "glass test" from Meningitis Now)
- is bothered by light
- has a fit (febrile seizure) for the first time (they cannot stop shaking)
- has unusually cold hands and feet
- has blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue
- has a weak, high-pitched cry that's not like their normal cry
- is drowsy and hard to wake
- is extremely agitated (does not stop crying) or is confused
- finds it hard to breathe and sucks their stomach in under their ribs
- is not responding like they normally do, or is not interested in feeding or normal activities
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) affect your urinary tract, including your bladder (cystitis), urethra (urethritis) or kidneys (kidney infection). UTIs may be treated with antibiotics, but they're not always needed.
Check if it's a urinary tract infection (UTI)
Symptoms of a UTI may include:
- pain or a burning sensation when peeing (dysuria)
- needing to pee more often than usual during the night (nocturia)
- pee that looks cloudy
- needing to pee suddenly or more urgently than usual
- needing to pee more often than usual
- blood in your pee
- lower tummy pain or pain in your back, just under the ribs
- a high temperature, or feeling hot and shivery
- a very low temperature below 36C
Children with UTIs may also:
- have a high temperature – your child is feeling hotter than usual if you touch their neck, back or tummy
- appear generally unwell – babies may be irritable and not feed properly
wet the bed or wet themselves
- be sick
Older, frail people or people with a urinary catheter
In older, frail people, and people with a urinary catheter, symptoms of a UTI may also include:
- changes in behaviour, such as acting confused or agitated
- wetting themselves (incontinence) that is worse than usual
- new shivering or shaking (rigors)
See a GP if:
- you have symptoms of a UTI for the first time
- your child has symptoms of a UTI
- you're a man with symptoms of a UTI
- you're pregnant and have symptoms of a UTI
- you're caring for an older, frail person who may have a UTI
- you have symptoms of a UTI after surgery
- your symptoms get worse or do not improve within 2 days
- your symptoms come back after treatment
Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: how to contact a GP
It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:
- visit their website
- use the NHS App
- call them
Find out about using the NHS during COVID-19
Urgent advice: Get advice from 111 now if:
you think you, your child or someone you care for may have a UTI and:
- a very high temperature, or feeling hot and shivery
- a very low temperature below 36C
- are confused, drowsy or have difficulty speaking
- have not been for a pee all day
- have pain in the lower tummy or in the back, just under the ribs
- can see blood in their pee
These symptoms suggest a kidney infection, which can be serious if it's not treated.
111 will tell you what to do. They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one.
Go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111.
Other ways to get help
What happens at your appointment
You'll be asked about your symptoms and may need to give a urine sample.
Treatment from a GP
Your doctor or nurse may offer self-care advice and recommend taking a painkiller.
They may give you a prescription for antibiotics if they think you may need them.
You may be asked to start taking these immediately, or to wait to see if your symptoms improve.
It's important to finish the whole course of antibiotics, even if you start to feel better.
Treatment from a GP for UTIs that keep coming back
If your UTI comes back after treatment, you may have a urine test and be prescribed different antibiotics.
Your doctor or nurse will also offer advice on how to prevent UTIs.
If you keep getting UTIs and regularly need treatment, a GP may give you a repeat prescription for antibiotics.
If you have been through the menopause, you may be offered a vaginal cream containing oestrogen.
Things you can do yourself
To help ease pain:
- take paracetamol up to 4 times a day to reduce pain and a high temperature – for people with a UTI, paracetamol is usually recommended over NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or aspirin
- you can give children liquid paracetamol
rest and drink enough fluids so you pass pale urine regularly during the day, especially during hot weather
- It's important to follow the instructions on the packet so you know how much paracetamol you or your child can take, and how often. It may also help to avoid having sex until you feel better.
- You cannot pass a UTI on to your partner, but sex may be uncomfortable.
- Taking cystitis sachets or cranberry products has not been shown to help ease symptoms of UTIs.
A pharmacist can help with UTIs
You can ask a pharmacist about treatments for a UTI. A pharmacist can:
- offer advice on things that can help you get better
- suggest the best painkiller to take
- tell you if you need to see a GP about your symptoms
- Some pharmacies offer a UTI management service and can prescribe antibiotics if they're needed
Causes of urinary tract infections (UTIs)
UTIs are usually caused by bacteria from poo entering the urinary tract.
The bacteria enter through the tube that carries pee out of the body (urethra).
Women have a shorter urethra than men. This means bacteria are more likely to reach the bladder or kidneys and cause an infection.
Things that increase the risk of bacteria getting into the bladder include:
- having sex
- conditions that block the urinary tract – such as kidney stones
- conditions that make it difficult to fully empty the bladder – such as an enlarged prostate gland in men and constipation in children
- urinary catheters (a tube in your bladder used to drain urine)
- having a weakened immune system – for example, people with diabetes or people having chemotherapy
- not drinking enough fluids
- not keeping the genital area clean and dry
How to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
There are some things you can try to help prevent UTIs returning.
- wipe from front to back when you go to the toilet
- keep the genital area clean and dry
- drink plenty of fluids, particularly water – so that you regularly pee during the day and do not feel thirsty
- wash the skin around the vagina with water before and after sex
- pee as soon as possible after sex
- promptly change nappies or incontinence pads if they're soiled
- do not use scented soap
- do not hold your pee in if you feel the urge to go
- do not rush when going for a pee – try to fully empty your bladder
- do not wear tight, synthetic underwear, such as nylon
- do not drink lots of alcoholic drinks, as they may irritate your bladder
- do not have lots of sugary food or drinks, as they may encourage bacteria to grow
- do not use condoms or diaphragms with spermicidal lube on them – try non-spermicidal lube or a different type of contraception
Other ways to prevent recurring UTIs
If you have more than 3 UTIs in 1 year, or 2 UTIs in 6 months, there are other things that may help prevent UTIs.
There is some evidence that women under 65 years old who keep getting UTIs may find it helpful to take:
a supplement called D-mannose – this is not recommended for pregnant women
cranberry products, such as juice or tablets
Speak to your doctor before taking any of these during pregnancy.
Be aware that D-mannose and cranberry products can contain a lot of sugar.