Self Help For Common Ailments

Many common conditions, such as coughs, colds and diarrhoea, can be simply treated at home without the need to consult a doctor. By doing this the surgery team is left free to manage patients with more serious problems.

People often worry about "leaving it too late" and doctors are frequently asked to give a prescription to "stop it developing into something serious". This is very uncommon, but many people do consult a doctor too early, either before a diagnosis can be made, or before the illness has had a chance to get better on its own.

Most minor illnesses will get better without treatment, so please do not expect to receive a prescription for these.

Below is some simple advice to follow for common complaints. Please try this before consulting a doctor. Most of the time by following this advice you will avoid a visit to the surgery and, more importantly, you will have started your treatment sooner so should be feeling better, faster.


Apply large quantities of cold water to the affected area as soon as possible and maintain until the pain subsides. This make take as long as 15 minutes. Redness and pain is normal and will improve by taking paracetamol. If the skin is unbroken but blistered, apply a loose, dry dressing. If the burn is larger than 4-5 inches in diameter or if the skin is broken, consult your Doctor as soon as possible.

Treat sunburn with Calamine lotion, paracetamol and by drinking plenty of fluids. Children are particularly susceptible to sunburn and great care should be taken to avoid overexposure to the harmful effects of the sun.


Clean the wound thoroughly with water and a little soap. Stop bleeding by applying steady pressure for about 15 minutes with a clean handkerchief or sterile dressing. Cover with a dry dressing. If surrounding redness, swelling or fever develop this may suggest an infection, for which you should consult a doctor.


Most cases are caused by viruses or food poisoning and tend to settle rapidly by drinking frequent sips of cooled boiled water or rehydration mixture. In babies dehydration can develop rapidly. Signs include drowsiness and lethargy, sunken eyes, dry mouth and not passing urine. In this situation or with continuous pain or fever, please contact a doctor.


Mild infections can cause high temperatures, which can be reduced by taking paracetamol or ibuprofen. In children, treatment with paracetamol suspension and removing the clothing will help reduce a fever.


Simple headaches can be helped by paracetamol and gentle exercise. If the headache is unusually severe, persistent or accompanied by vomiting, please consult a doctor.


These are small wingless insects which can live on the human scalp and lay their eggs there. There are usually no symptoms but you may notice black dots (lice droppings) on your clothes or white dots (empty lice shells after the eggs have hatched) in your hair. The scalp may be itchy.  They are passed from head to head, usually by direct contact between children. Brushing and combing the hair at night can help prevent the spread (eggs are usually laid at night).

You can purchase a 'nit comb' from the pharmacy and thoroughly comb through wet hair to find the:

  • Lice (flesh coloured insects about 3mm long)
  • Live eggs (very small, dull and flesh coloured just above the hair roots)
  • Old shells or nits (white shiny harmless shells found away from the scalp)

Lotions can be bought from the pharmacy or prescribed. Shampoos should not be used as they wash off too quickly. It is important to follow the instructions on the bottle carefully. It is also important to check all the family and close contacts at the same time and treat those found with headlice.

Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, as well as children under six months, should be treated under medical supervision.


Sprains, strains or bruises cause bleeding into tissues. Swelling, pain and delayed healing may result. Ice treatment helps to reduce bleeding into the tissues, limits the effects of swelling, muscle spasm and pain by numbing the area. A 'packet of frozen peas' makes an ideal ice pack, moulding to the affected area. Wrap the bag in a thin wet flannel and press it gently onto the injured area.

Apply the ice within 5-10 minutes of the injury for about 10 minutes every two hours for the first 48 hours.

Do NOT use heat on a new injury (e.g. soaking in a hot bath, heat lamp, hot water bottle, deep heat cream, etc). Heat increases bleeding making the problem worse.


If an area of skin is red, hot, swollen or tender it may be infected or inflamed. Please contact a doctor.


Carefully remove the sting if it is still visible (bee stings should be scraped away rather than 'plucked' so as to avoid squeezing the content of the venom sac). Do not suck the wound. Itch, redness and swelling may rapidly follow and will improve by taking anti-histamine medication easily obtained from a pharmacy without prescription. If facial swelling and/or breathing difficulties manifest to seek emergency assistance.


Rinse the mouth frequently with salt water (a teaspoon of salt in one pint of water).


Sit upright in a chair and breathe through an open mouth. Pinching the soft part of the nostrils just below the bridge of your nose for 10-15 minutes continuously will normally stop the bleeding (avoid hot drinks or hot food for 24 hours). If bleeding persists for longer than this, please attend MIU or A&E department.


Most sore throats are caused by a viral infection which do not require an antibiotic. The best and cheapest treatment is plenty of fluids and regular paracetamol. Other remedies such as lozenges are of dubious value. If the throat is still sore after one week then you may wish to seek a doctor's opinion. Tonsillitis is associated with a high fever, malaise, aching and white spots on the tonsils.


Aches and pains occur commonly in our busy lives. Symptoms may start up to 48 hours after sporting activity or overuse (e.g. gardening, decorating) or may appear without any apparent injury. Treatment includes rest (avoidance of further overuse or injury), ice and painkillers for the first 48 hours followed by gentle exercise to avoid stiffness of other parts of the body. Physiotherapy or complementary therapies can be helpful. Please contact a doctor for advice if you have severe pain, numbness or pins and needles.


Threadworms are common, particularly in children, but not serious.

Threadworms are small, white thread-like worms 2.5 to 12mm long. They may cause an itchy bottom which is caused by eggs laid at night around the (anus) back passage (when warm in bed). Scratching relieves the itch but lets eggs get onto fingers and under nails. These eggs may be swallowed, growing into adult worms in the gut. These worms lay eggs around the anus before they die. Children may swallow some threadworm eggs at first by playing with other children who have eggs on their fingers from food, drink or dust that has been contaminated. Good hygiene is far more important than medication. Wash hands and use soft nail brushes every morning and before food. Wearing enough night clothes to prevent direct scratching. Medication (mebendazole) may help but works much better with good hygiene. 


Symptoms may include frequent or urgent passage of urine with a burning feeling or sometimes back pain. Drinking plenty of water & cranberry juice can help. Should symptoms persist or be severe, antibiotics may be needed. It is helpful to provide a doctor with a urine sample in a sterile container, which may be obtained from reception. 


These can cause symptoms such as aches & pains, colds & flu, diarrhoea & vomiting, headaches, sore throats & temperatures. Antibiotics do NOT help viruses. Treating the symptoms can be more helpful.