Are you prepared for the common winter ailments? Part 2

Winter ailments are common and often inevitable. Most of the time we simply have to wait for them to pass, just like winter itself! However, there are things we can do to avoid them, and if we are unlucky to get struck down it’s helpful to know the best way to treat them. In this second post of a two-part series, we will be looking at the common symptoms, causes and treatment for ringworm, scabies, ingrown toenails, back pain and cold sores.

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.

This common fungal infection gets its name from its appearance. Sufferers will usually have a red or silver rash in a ring shape which is scaly, swollen, itchy or dry. You can get ringworm on any part of the body and it is highly contagious.

Ringworm spreads through close contact with other people, animals or objects such as bedsheets and towels and is more common in colder, darker months when the fungus is able to grow. To avoid contracting it keep your skin clean and dry and wash immediately after playing contact sports or coming into contact with anyone you know to be infected.

It can be treated with antifungal medicine, but because of its infectious nature, it is recommended that steps are taken to contain the infection. This includes regular hand washing and changing bed covers and towels regularly throughout the treatment.

Scabies is caused by small mites that lay their eggs under your skin and is more likely to occur in winter as people tend to spend more time closer to each other. This causes a silvery line with a dot at the end. This can happen anywhere on your body but often in the gap between your fingers. The rash will usually spread and transform into little red dots. If someone you know has scabies, avoid skin to skin contact as this is how it spreads.

Although it isn’t serious it does require specific treatment which can be either oral or topical scabicidal drugs. Because it is so infectious, everyone in an infected household will need the treatment. It can take up to a week for symptoms to appear so other family members might have it without knowing it. Clothes, towels and bed covers need to be washed regularly and throughout the treatment.

In-growing toenails
When a toenail grows into the skin around the toe and cuts the skin it is called an ingrown toenail. It can become red, swollen and painful. Apart from feeling tender, it can also bleed or cause a buildup of fluid.

In winter, we often wear more close-fitting shoes and boots and foot care may be neglected. This can increase the likelihood of badly cut nails, squashed toes or sweaty feet – all factors which contribute to in-growing toenails. Sometimes people are just very unlucky and have a toenail shape that is susceptible to this ailment. 

If you have an in-growing toenail, keep your feet clean and change your socks or tights often. Using a cotton bud, you can gently push the skin away from the nail. Also, make sure the shoes you are wearing fit well. Preparation is definitely better than a cure though, so it is wise to do all these things even if your feet are currently healthy.

Back pain
Most people experience back pain at some point in their lives. It is especially common in the lower back and often more prevalent during the colder months when we tend to be less active too. It isn’t necessarily a sign of anything serious and with proper care will improve. To ease the pain, stay active as much as possible; stopping altogether can make the pain worse. Exercises such as stretching, walking, swimming, yoga and pilates help to relieve any discomfort and strengthen the area. You can also use hot or cold packs on the area of pain, and ask your pharmacist about anti-inflammatories.

Seek further medical advice if the pain persists more than 4 weeks, it’s severe and stops you living your normal life. See a professional immediately if you have any numbness, problems passing water, incontinence, chest pain or a high temperature.

Cold Sores
The common cold sore is contagious and uncomfortable but will usually go within 10 days. Cold sores tend to be common over winter as the harsh weather can dry out your lips and make them more hospitable to the herpes virus.

The first sign you have one coming is usually a tingling, burning or itching sensation before a small blister appears. The blister may grow, and will usually appear on the mouth but can occur anywhere on the face.  Eventually, it will burst and the cold sore will scab over.

While you have a cold sore, try to eat soft foods and avoid anything too hot or cold, keep washing your hands, use antibacterial mouthwash – and avoid kissing anyone! Although there is no cure for cold sores, you can get creams to help with pain, speed up healing and protect the skin.

The great news is you don’t have to suffer alone. We are here to help and thanks to the NHS Wales-funded Common Ailments Service, can offer guidance and, in many cases, treatment for 27 common ailments absolutely free. To find out more, visit our Common Ailments Service webpage today.

That completes our top 10 winter ailments series. To read the first post, which looks in more detail at mouth ulcers, piles, eye infections, chickenpox and acne, click here.

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