Are you prepared for the common winter ailments? Part 1

Winter is the time to get warm and cosy, but it is also a time many of us find ourselves fighting off winter bugs and illnesses. This is the first part of a two-part series looking at 10 of the most common winter ailments. We’ll give you tips to spot them, treat them, but hopefully avoid them in the first place. Our first article in the series looks at mouth ulcers, piles, eye infections, chickenpox and acne.

It’s important to remember that although these ailments are minor, for the most vulnerable (the old, the young, pregnant women or those with pre-existing conditions) they can become more serious. If you fit into any of these categories, we always recommend contacting your pharmacy or GP for advice.

Mouth Ulcers
More viral infections in the winter lead to more mouth ulcers. These can usually be found inside of the cheek, lip or on the tongue. They often occur when you cut or damage the skin inside your mouth. To avoid them, don’t eat boiling hot food, make sure any dentures or braces are fitted properly, avoid brushing your gums too hard and try not to bite the inside of your mouth.

Mouth ulcers themselves are not serious and although slightly painful they will clear up on their own. To help them along avoid spicy, acidic, crunchy or hard food and stop chewing gum. You can also use antibacterial mouthwash or painkillers specifically for local use inside the mouth.

Piles
Haemorrhoids (piles) are enlarged blood vessels around the rectum and anus and can often be the result of overindulgence over winter or Christmas. Some people don’t know they have them, but symptoms can include bleeding after passing a stool (bright red, fresh blood), itching, a lump that hangs down, redness or mucus discharge.

They are often caused by straining, and people who have recently suffered from constipation or diarrhoea sometimes get piles as a consequence.  A healthy diet with plenty of fibre and water can help prevent piles in the first place, but if you do get them, creams and suppositories can provide some relief.

Eye infections
If your eye is painful, itchy or it feels like something is inside it, you may have an eye infection. Other symptoms include a burning sensation, tender eyelids, watery or discoloured discharge and irritation. Seasonal colds or other viruses are often to blame.

There are many different types of eye infection, so you probably won’t have all these symptoms at once. Creams, ointments and eye drops can all help the healing process. You can prevent eye infections by washing your hands before touching your eyes or touching contact lenses and regularly washing towels and bedding.

Chickenpox
Chickenpox is a common childhood ailment but adults can get it too. It’s most common in winter and early spring, likely due to the fact we tend to be indoors and in closer proximity to others more. The first clear sign is red spots on the body that quickly progress into fluid-filled blisters. The spots will continue to appear and burst for a few days before scabs form over the top of them. Sufferers often have an accompanying high temperature as well as itching, aches and pains. Chickenpox is infectious until all the spots have scabbed over – usually around 5 days after the first spots appear, so it is highly recommended you stay away from public places until this time.

To ease the symptoms, make sure the sufferer is drinking plenty of fluids and dressing in loose clothing. You can bathe them in cool water but pat, don’t rub them dry as this will irritate the spots, just pat. You can use specific use specific creams, ointments and gels and paracetamol appropriate for their age to ease discomfort and control a high temperature.

Do NOT give any form of ibuprofen for chicken pox and seek further medical advice if the spots / blisters are hot or painful, as this could signal an infection.

Acne
Acne affects most people at some point in their lives and is not just an ailment that teenagers suffer from. It is characterised by excessive spots on the face, chest or back.

Cold and windy weather can make the symptoms worse, stripping your skin of its natural protection and allowing bacteria into the pores.

To treat acne, wash no more than twice a day to avoid irritating the skin, and use a mild soap with lukewarm water. Do not squeeze or pick spots and avoid overuse of high chemical products and cosmetics; opt for gentle, unperfumed cleanser and moisturiser.

If you suffer with these or any other common ailments, we can help. Through our NHS Wales-funded Common Ailments Service, we can offer guidance and, in many cases, treatment, free of charge. For more information about the ailments we treat under this service, visit our Common Ailments page or get in touch.

For more advice on winter ailments, look out for our second blog in the series where we will be looking at ringworm, scabies, in-growing toenails, back pain and cold sores.

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