What to do at the first signs of illness

With more than 200 common cold viruses and three types of flu virus floating around, winter bugs can be hard to avoid. If you tackle it early on you can avoid developing any longer lasting, debilitating symptoms and avoid a trip to the GP or A&E.

The main early signs of winter cold and flu bugs are:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Blocked nose
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • A slight temperature

The best way to get the right care fastest is to visit your local pharmacy, where you can get advice on how to manage your symptoms and buy over-the-counter medicine. You do not need to see a GP unless you experience more serious symptoms as well.

Top tip: If you keep a well-stocked medicine cabinet ready in your home, then you will avoid being left unprepared if you find yourself with these symptoms at an inconvenient time, such as the middle of the night or early in the morning right before the school run.

Cold and flu medicines are the top sellers in winter at pharmacists. Many combine painkillers with decongestants, which can help to manage your illness.

Along with the right medicines, the best way to tackle illness head on is to:

  • Rest
  • Eat well
  • Avoid stress
  • Keep hydrated
Top tip:If you have a fever and pain, you may need extra fluids. You could also take paracetamol to help ease discomfort.

Children can be treated using some over-the-counter painkillers to help bring down a fever and ease pain. Both paracetamol and ibuprofen are available as a liquid, and can be given from the age of three months. Always check with your doctor if you aren’t sure which treatments you can give your child.

When to see a doctor

Whilst most bugs will run their course without leaving any real harm, there are certain cases when you or your child should see a GP. These include:

  • If you or your child have a chronic condition e.g. asthma or diabetes
  • If you have a very high temperature and feel ill e.g. severe headache or abdominal pain
  • If your child is vomiting but does not have diarrhoea
  • If your child stops drinking and is unusually lethargic


Dr Tim Spicer Chair of Hammersmith and Fulham CCG said: “Most winter bugs will come and go within a few days, and can be easily treated within the comfort of your home. Be sure to stock up your medicine cabinet well so that if you do find yourself becoming unwell you can deal with it effectively and avoid unnecessary stress.

“Children tend to get a lot of colds because the body takes time to build up immunity, so make sure you know how to manage them from the early stages. If something doesn’t seem right and you do feel a professional opinion is needed then call 111 or, if you’re really worried, make an appointment to see a GP.”