Manage Your Minor Illness

Many of us visit our GP with minor health problems that can be easily resolved without a doctor’s appointment.

Your local pharmacist can offer advice and sometimes some self help is all we need.

Click here for useful information on how long common illnesses such as coughs, colds and ear infections may last.

Worried your child is unwell?    Click here for advice.

The Royal College of General Practitioners supply patient information leaflets.  Click here to read the leaflets that are currently available.

At Home

Below is a list of useful medicines and items that are worth keeping at home to help with any minor illness.

Store them well out of reach of children and always remember to read the label.

For relief from heartburn.

Antihistamine Tablets:
These can be used for the treatment of itchy rashes, spots and insect bites.

Anti-Inflammatory Tablets:

These are good for back aches, colds and flu etc.  Please note that if have a stomach problem or get stomach pain after taking these tablets then you should consult a doctor.

Antiseptic Cream:
This is ideal for treating septic spots, sores in the nose and grazes.

Calamine Lotion:
Dab this onto insect bites, stings and sunburn to provide relief.

Menthol Crystals:
These can be added to hot water to make steam inhalations for treating catarrh, colds, etc.

Paracetamol Mixture:
This can be used for the relief of pain or fever in young children.

Paracetamol Tablets:
These are good for headaches, colds, sore throats or painful joints.  Do not take more than eight tablets in twenty-four hours.

Sedative Cough Linctus:
This is useful for dry painful coughs but not for coughs caused by a common cold.

This allows you to check for a fever.  This is very important if there is a baby in the house.

For removing splinters.

Vapour Rub:
This is again for steam inhalations.  It is also useful for children with stuffy noses or dry coughs.  Rub onto chest and under nose.



Antibiotics only work on bacteria and have no effect on viruses.  Unfortunately this means that common infections like coughs, colds, flu, etc. will not be helped by them at all.

The correct treatments are the simple remedies outlined below and we only use antibiotics when we suspect there may be a secondary infection.

Overuse of antibiotics and failure to complete the course may lead to them not working in future and other complications like thrush, skin rashes, etc.

Back Pain

About 8 in 10 people have one or more bouts of low back pain.  In most cases, it is not due to a serious disease or serious back problem, and the exact cause of the pain is not clear.  This is called nonspecific lower back pain.  The usual advice is to keep active, and do normal activities as much as possible.  Painkillers can help until the pain eases.  In most cases, the pain disappears within six weeks but may come back (recur) from time to time.

Chronic (persistent) pain develops in some cases, and further treatment may then be needed.

Continue with normal activities as much as possible.  This may not be possible at first if the pain is very bad.  However, move around as soon as you are able, and get back into normal activities as soon as you can.  As a rule, don’t do anything that causes a lot of pain.  However, you will have to accept some discomfort when you are trying to keep active.  Setting a new goal each day may be a good idea; for example, walking around the house on one day, a walk to the shops the next, and so on.

Sleep in the most naturally comfortable position on whatever is the most comfortable surface.  Advice given in the past used to be to sleep on a firm mattress.  However, there is no evidence to say that a firm mattress is better than any other type of mattress for people with low back pain.  Some people find that a small firm pillow between the knees when sleeping on the side helps to ease symptoms at night.

If you have a job, aim to get back to work as soon as possible.  There is no need to wait for complete freedom from pain before returning to work.  Returning to work often helps to relieve pain by getting back to a normal pattern of activity and providing a distraction from the pain.

In the past, advice had been to rest until the pain eases.  It is now known that this was wrong.  The evidence from research trials is that you are likely to recover more quickly by getting moving again, and getting back to work as soon as possible.

You are less likely to develop persistent (chronic) back pain if you keep active when you have back pain rather than rest a lot.

If you need painkillers, it is best to take them regularly.  This is better than taking them now and again just when the pain is very bad.  If you take them regularly the pain is more likely to be eased for much of the time and enable you to exercise and keep active.

If the pain persists or you are in doubt about some of the symptoms you are experiencing, then please get in touch with your doctor who will decide if you need a fuller examination or more treatment.

Useful Links

Sheffield Back Pain

Suffering from back pain can have a big impact on your everyday routine but with the right guidance and support, most people with back pain can recover without the need for medical help.

This website has provides information, advice and resources from Sheffield clinicians to help you get back to health.


Apply large quantities of cold water to the affected area as soon as possible and maintain until the pain subsides; this may take up to 15 minutes.  If the skin is unbroken but blistered; apply a loose dry dressing.  If the burn is larger than four to five inches in diameter or if the skin is broken, consult your doctor as soon as possible.

Colds and Sinusitis

Take plenty of fluids, paracetamol or (if over 16 years of age) aspirin.  Inhalation with steam and menthol crystals can help to clear nasal passages.  If they are very blocked you could ask the chemist to recommend a decongestant.

You should be improving after seven to ten days and be better in two weeks.  We recommend you come to see us if the illness persists any longer than this.


These can be soothed by a drink made with honey and fresh lemon juice in hot water.  If particularly irritating, steam inhalations or your favourite cough medicine can be worthwhile.

If you bring up coloured phlegm and are feeling short of breath or have a wheeze, we may need to examine your chest.

Coughs and Colds in Children

Coughs and colds are usually caused by a viral infection.  They normally clear away on their own, and antibiotics are usually of no use.  Paracetamol or ibuprofen may ease some of the symptoms.  Make sure the child has enough to drink.

What causes coughs and colds and what are the symptoms?

Most coughs and colds are caused by viruses.  Many different viruses can infect the nose and throat. They are passed on by coughing and sneezing the virus into the air.  An average pre-school and primary school child has 3-8 coughs or colds per year.  Sometimes several coughs or colds occur one after the other.  A child who lives with smokers has an increased risk of developing coughs and colds.

• The common symptoms are a cough and a runny nose.  The cough is often worse at night.  Coughing does not damage the lungs.

• In addition, a child may have: a raised temperature (fever), a sore throat, headache, tiredness, and be off their food.  Sometimes children vomit after a bout of coughing.

• A build-up of mucus behind the eardrums may cause dulled hearing or mild earache.

What are the treatments for coughs and colds?

There is no magic cure!  Typically, symptoms are worse in the first 2-3 days, and then ease over the next few days as the immune system clears the virus.  An irritating cough may linger for up to 2-4 weeks after other symptoms have gone.  Antibiotics do not kill viruses, so are of no use for common coughs and colds.

Coughs and colds often do not need any treatment.  Make sure your child has enough to drink. Dehydration (low body fluid) may develop if a child has a fever and does not drink much.

Treatment aims to ease symptoms.  Paracetamol can ease aches and pains, headaches, and fever.  Ibuprofen is an alternative.  Both are sold in pharmacies in liquid form for children.  There are various brands – ask the pharmacist if you are unsure what is suitable.

Diarrhoea and Vomiting

This usually settles after one to three days.  Avoid all food for 12-24 hours, drink plenty of fluids frequently and in small amounts.  Special fluids, e.g. Dioralyte will prevent dehydration and are available at chemists.  Avoid milk, dairy products and fatty/spicy foods when you start eating again.  Tummy colic can be eased by paracetamol.


Ear infection is common in children but can occur at any age.  The main symptoms are earache and feeling unwell.  Painkillers are the main treatment.  Antibiotics are not usually needed but are prescribed in some cases.  The infection usually clears within a few days.

Earwax is a build-up of dead cells, hair, foreign material such as dust, and cerumen.  Cerumen is the natural wax produced by glands in the ear.  It forms a protective coating of the skin in the ear canal. Small amounts are made all the time.  Flakes or crusts of earwax break off and fall out of the ear from time to time.

The quantity of earwax made varies greatly from person to person.  Some people form plugs of earwax in their ear canal.  This may cause a feeling of fullness and dulled hearing.  A hard plug of earwax can also sometimes cause ‘ringing in the ear’ (tinnitus) or even a mild type of dizziness (vertigo).

What can I do if earwax builds up and causes symptoms?

Ear drops alone will often clear a plug of earwax.  You can buy drops from pharmacies.  For example, olive oil, almond oil, sodium bicarbonate, and sodium chloride ear drops are commonly used for this purpose.  Warm the drops to room temperature before using them (let the bottle stand in the room for about half an hour).  Pour a few drops into the affected ear.  Lie with the affected ear uppermost when putting in drops.  Stay like this for 2-3 minutes to allow the drops to soak into the earwax.  The earwax is softened and it often breaks up if you put drops in 2-3 times a day for 10 – 14 days.  Flakes or crusts of earwax often fall out bit by bit.  For more information please read our Ear care patient information leaflet.

Fever (High Temperature) in Children

Most fevers (high temperatures) in children are not serious and are due to the common infections of childhood such as coughs, colds and other viral infections.  However, sometimes a fever is a symptom of a serious infection.  If your child has a fever, give them lots to drink.  It is not always necessary to give them paracetamol or ibuprofen, unless they are distressed or very unwell.  Also, check for signs of dehydration (low body fluid) and serious illness (details below).  Seek medical help if you are concerned.

What causes a fever (high temperature)?

Viral infections are the common cause.  Viral infections cause many common illnesses such as colds, coughs, flu, diarrhoea, etc.  Sometimes viral infections cause more serious illnesses.

Bacterial infections are less common than viral infections, but also cause fevers.  Bacteria are more likely to cause serious illness such as pneumonia, urine and kidney infections, septicaemia and meningitis.

Other types of infection are uncommon causes of a high temperature in the UK.

What can I do if my child has a fever?

• Make your child comfortable

• Check for signs of dehydration

• Check for signs of serious infection

• Keep your child off school or nursery until they are better.

• Seek medical help if you are concerned.

Make your child comfortable

A fever can make a child feel uncomfortable and irritable.  The following are things that you can do that may bring the temperature down and make your child feel more comfortable:

You can give paracetamol or ibuprofen.  Both of these medicines can lower a temperature.  You can buy these medicines in liquid form for children.  They come in various brand names.  An alternative is to give soluble paracetamol in a drink.  The dose for each age is given with the medicine packet.  Note: these medicines do not treat the cause of the fever.  They merely help to ease discomfort.  You do not need to use these medicines if the child is comfortable and not distressed by the fever.

Note: do not give both paracetamol and ibuprofen at the same time.  However, on occasions, if a fever is difficult to control, then for each time a medicine dose is given, a doctor or nurse may advise alternating one of these medicines with the other.  It is best only to do this alternating dose regime after assessment by a doctor or nurse.

Note: do not use ibuprofen for:

° Children known to react (have hypersensitivity) to ibuprofen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

° Children in whom attacks of asthma have been triggered by an NSAID.

° Children with chickenpox.  This is because some research has shown that ibuprofen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may increase the risk of developing serious skin infection complications in children with chickenpox.

Take the clothes off the child if the room is normal room temperature.  It is wrong to wrap up a feverish child.  The aim is to prevent overheating or shivering.

Give lots to drink.  This helps to prevent dehydration.  You might find that a child is more willing to have a good drink if they are not so irritable.  So, if they are not keen to drink, it may help to give some paracetamol or ibuprofen first.  Then, try them with drinks half an hour or so later when their temperature is likely to have come down.  If breast-feeding then keep breast-feeding, as breast milk is the best fluid.  However, you can offer feeds more often to increase the amount of fluid.

Do not cold-sponge a child who has a fever.  This used to be popular, but it is now not advised.  This is because the blood vessels under the skin become narrower (constrict) if the water is too cold.  This reduces heat loss, and can trap heat in deeper parts of the body.  The child may then get worse.  Many children also find cold-sponging uncomfortable.

Some people use a fan to cool a child.  Again, this may not be a good idea if the fanned air is too cold.  However, a gentle flow of air in a room which is room temperature may be helpful.  Perhaps just open the window, or use a fan on the other side of the room to keep the air circulating.

Insect Bites and Stings

Antihistamine tablets can be obtained from the chemist without prescription and will usually relieve the symptoms.  Note:  Bee stings should be scraped away rather than “plucked” to avoid squeezing the contents of the venom sac into the wound.  A red reaction around an insect bite/sting coming up within 24 hours of the bite is not generally suggestive of an infection needing antibiotics.

Nose Bleeds

Sit in a chair, lean forward with your mouth open and pinch your nose just below the bone for approximately 10 minutes, by which time the bleeding should have stopped.  Avoid hot drinks or blowing your nose for 12 hours.  If the symptoms persist, consult your doctor.

Sore Throats

If over 16 years of age gargle with soluble aspirin, otherwise soluble paracetamol, drink plenty of fluids and use lozenges or boiled sweets if they help.

Do I need an antibiotic?

Usually not.  Most throat and tonsil infections are caused by viruses, although some are caused by bacteria.  Without tests, it is usually not possible to tell if it is a viral or bacterial infection.  Antibiotics kill bacteria, but do not kill viruses.  However, even if a bacterium is the cause, an antibiotic does not make much difference in most cases.  Your immune system usually clears these infections within a few days whether caused by a virus or a bacterium.  Also, antibiotics can sometimes cause side-effects such as diarrhoea, feeling sick, rash, and stomach upsets.  Therefore, most doctors do not prescribe antibiotics for most cases of sore throat or tonsillitis.

An antibiotic may be advised if the infection is severe, if it is not easing after a few days, or if your immune system is not working properly, for example, if you have had your spleen removed or if you are having chemotherapy.


Firstly apply a cold compress, containing ice if possible (a bag of frozen peas kept for this purpose is ideal) for 15-20 minutes to reduce the swelling.  Apply, firmly, a crepe bandage and give the sprain plenty of rest until all discomfort has subsided.  Further strain will inevitably lead to further swelling and a longer recovery time.


Treat as other burns with cold water to remove the heat.  Calamine Lotion will relieve the irritation.  Paracetamol may also help.  Children are particularly vulnerable to sunburn so put a hat on them, dress in lightweight clothing to cover arms and legs and use a sun barrier cream on exposed areas.  Over exposure to the harmful effects of sunlight can cause cancer in later life.

This list is obviously not exhaustive.  Click here for more useful information.