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Every year, millions of us visit our GP with minor health problems that can be easily resolved without a doctor's appointment. It is estimated that every year, 50 million visits to the GP are made for minor ailments such as coughs and colds, mild eczema, and athlete's foot. By visiting your pharmacy instead, you could save yourself time and trouble
Keeping a well stocked medicine cabinet at home can help you treat many minor ailments. Colds, coughs, indigestion and many other minor complaints can all be treated with medicines that are available over the counter.
Your pharmacist can advise on what you might find useful to keep in your medicine cabinet. Always follow the instructions on the medicine label and consult your doctor if the illness continues or becomes more severe
Pharmacists offer professional free health advice at any time - you don't need an appointment. From coughs and colds to aches and pains, they can give you expert help on everyday illnesses. They can answer questions about prescribed and over-the-counter medicines. Your local Pharmacist can also advise on healthy eating, obesity and giving up smoking. Some pharmacists have private areas where you can talk in confidence. They may suggest you visit your GP for more serious symptoms.
It is possible to purchase many medicines from the chemist without a prescription. For a range of NHS services for patients based in England only. You can receive treatment for many ailments including infection and rashes stomach upsets, cuts and bruises, or burns and strains.
NHS Walk In Centres treat around 3m patients a year and have proved to be a successful complementary service to traditional GP and A&E services. Some centres offer access to doctors as well as nurses. However, they are not designed for treating long-term conditions or immediately life-threatening problems Emergency Major A&E departments assess and treat patients who have serious injuries or illnesses. Generally, you should visit A&E or call 999 for emergencies, such as loss of consciousness, pain that is not relieved by simple analgesia, acute confused state, persistent, severe chest pain, or breathing difficulties. If you're injured or seriously ill, you should go, or be taken, to A&E. If an ambulance is needed you can call 999, the emergency phone number in the UK. You can also dial 112, which is the equivalent for the European Union. A&E departments offer access 365 days a year and usually open 24 hours a day. Be aware that not all hospitals have an A&E department.
Diarrhoea and vomiting are common in adults, children and babies. You can have them together or on their own.
They're usually caused by a stomach bug and should pass in a few days.
You can usually treat yourself or your child at home.
The most important thing is to have plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
In adults and children:
If you have a stomach bug, you could be infectious to others.
You're most infectious from when the symptoms start until 2 days after they've passed. Stay off school or work until the symptoms have stopped for 2 days.
To avoid spreading an infection:
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They may recommend:
Find a pharmacy
Check with the GP before going in. They may suggest a phone check-up.
Call 111 if you can't get an appointment.
Go to A&E if you can't get hold of your GP.
Find an A&E department
You probably won't know exactly what the cause is, but the main causes of diarrhoea and vomiting are treated in the same way.
They're usually due to:
If someone is injured you should:
Read more about what to do after an incident.
If a person is unconscious but breathing, and has no other injuries that would stop them being moved, place them in the recovery position until help arrives.
Keep them under observation to ensure they continue to breathe normally, and don't obstruct their airway.
If a person isn't breathing normally after an incident, call an ambulance and start CPR straight away. Use hands-only CPR if you aren't trained to perform rescue breaths.
Read more about CPR, including instructions and a video about hands-only CPR.
Below, in alphabetical order, are some of the most common injuries that need emergency treatment in the UK and information about how to deal with them:
Anaphylaxis (or anaphylactic shock) is a severe allergic reaction that can occur after an insect sting or after eating certain foods. The adverse reaction can be very fast, occurring within seconds or minutes of coming into contact with the substance the person is allergic to (allergen).
During anaphylactic shock, it may be difficult for the person to breathe, as their tongue and throat may swell, obstructing their airway.
Call 999 or 112 immediately if you think someone is experiencing anaphylactic shock.
Check if the person is carrying any medication. Some people who know they have severe allergies may carry an adrenaline self-injector, which is a type of pre-loaded syringe. You can either help the person administer their medication or, if you're trained to do so, give it to them yourself.
After the injection, continue to look after the person until medical help arrives. All casualties who have had an intramuscular or subcutaneous (under the skin) injection of adrenaline must be seen and medically checked by a healthcare professional as soon as possible after the injection has been given.
Make sure they're comfortable and can breathe as best they can while waiting for medical help to arrive. If they're conscious, sitting upright is normally the best position for them.
Read more about treating anaphylaxis.
If someone is bleeding heavily, the main aim is to prevent further blood loss and minimise the effects of shock (see below).
First, dial 999 and ask for an ambulance as soon as possible.
If you have disposable gloves, use them to reduce the risk of any infection being passed on.
Check that there's nothing embedded in the wound. If there is, take care not to press down on the object.
Instead, press firmly on either side of the object and build up padding around it before bandaging, to avoid putting pressure on the object itself.
If nothing is embedded:
If a body part, such as a finger, has been severed, place it in a plastic bag or wrap it in cling film and make sure it goes with the casualty to hospital.
Always seek medical help for bleeding unless it's minor.
If someone has a nosebleed that hasn't stopped after 20 minutes, go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department.
Read more about how to treat minor bleeding from cuts and grazes and how to treat nosebleeds.
In certain situations, where bleeding is very severe and from the body's extremities, such as the head, neck and torso, it may be appropriate to use haemostatic dressings or a tourniquet.
Haemostatic dressings contain properties that help the blood to clot (thicken) quicker. A tourniquet is a band that's wrapped tightly around a limb to stop blood loss. Haemostatic dressings and tourniquets should only be used by people who have been trained to apply them.
If someone has a burn or scald:
For chemical burns, wear protective gloves, remove any affected clothing, and rinse the burn with cool running water for at least 20 minutes to wash out the chemical. If possible, determine the cause of the injury.
In certain situations where a chemical is regularly handled, a specific chemical antidote may be available to use.
Be careful not to contaminate and injure yourself with the chemical, and wear protective clothing if necessary.
Call 999 or 112 for immediate medical help.
Read more about how to treat burns and scalds.
The information below is for choking in adults and children over one year old. Read what to do if a baby under one year old is choking.
If the airway is only partly blocked, the person will usually be able to speak, cry, cough or breathe. In situations like this, a person will usually be able to clear the blockage themselves.
If choking is mild:
If coughing doesn't work, start back blows (see below).
If choking is severe, the person won't be able to speak, cry, cough or breathe, and without help they'll eventually become unconscious.
To help an adult or child over one year old:
Don't give abdominal thrusts to babies under one year old or to pregnant women.
To perform abdominal thrusts on a person who is severely choking and isn't in one of the above groups:
The aim is to get the obstruction out with each chest thrust, rather than necessarily doing all five.
If the person's airway is still blocked after trying back blows and abdominal thrusts:
The person choking should always be seen by a healthcare professional afterwards to check for any injuries or small pieces of the obstruction that remain.
If someone is in difficulty in water, don't enter the water to help unless it's absolutely essential.
Once the person is on land, if they're not breathing, open the airway and give five initial rescue breaths before starting CPR. If you're alone, perform CPR for one minute before calling for emergency help.
Find out how to give CPR, including rescue breaths.
If the person is unconscious but still breathing, put them into the recovery position with their head lower than their body and call an ambulance immediately.
Continue to observe the casualty to ensure they don't stop breathing or that their airway becomes obstructed.
If someone has had an electric shock, switch off the electrical current at the mains to break the contact between the person and the electrical supply.
If you can't reach the mains supply:
Afterwards, seek medical help – unless the electric shock is very minor.
It can be difficult to tell if a person has a broken bone or a joint, as opposed to a simple muscular injury. If you're in any doubt, treat the injury as a broken bone.
If the person is unconscious, has difficulty breathing or is bleeding severely, these must be dealt with first, by controlling the bleeding with direct pressure and performing CPR.
If the person is conscious, prevent any further pain or damage by keeping the fracture as still as possible until you get them safely to hospital.
Assess the injury and decide whether the best way to get them to hospital is by ambulance or car. For example, if the pain isn't too severe, you could transport them to hospital by car. It's always best to get someone else to drive, so that you can deal with the casualty if they deteriorate – for example, if they lose consciousness as a result of the pain or start to vomit.
Don't give the casualty anything to eat or drink, because they may need an anaesthetic (numbing medication) when they reach hospital.
You can read more about specific broken bones in the following pages:
A heart attack is one of the most common life-threatening heart conditions in the UK.
If you think a person is having, or has had, a heart attack, sit them down and make them as comfortable as possible, and call 999 or 112 for an ambulance.
Symptoms of a heart attack include:
Sit the person down and make them comfortable.
If they're conscious, reassure them and ask them to take a 300mg aspirin tablet to chew slowly (unless you know they shouldn't take aspirin – for example, if they're under 16 or allergic to it).
If the person has any medication for angina, such as a spray or tablets, help them to take it. Monitor their vital signs, such as breathing, until help arrives.
If the person deteriorates and becomes unconscious, open their airway, check their breathing and, if necessary, start CPR. Re-alert the emergency services that the casualty is now in cardiac arrest.
Poisoning is potentially life-threatening. Most cases of poisoning in the UK happen when a person has swallowed a toxic substance, such as bleach, taken an overdose of a prescription medication, or eaten wild plants and fungi. Alcohol poisoning can cause similar symptoms.
If you think someone has swallowed a poisonous substance, call 999 or 112 to get immediate medical help and advice.
The effects of poisoning depend on the substance swallowed, but can include vomiting, loss of consciousness, pain or a burning sensation. The following advice is important:
If the person becomes unconscious while you're waiting for help to arrive, check for breathing and, if necessary, perform CPR.
Don't perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if the casualty's mouth or airway is contaminated with the poison.
Don't leave them if they're unconscious because they may roll onto their back, which could cause them to vomit. The vomit could then enter their lungs and make them choke.
If the casualty is conscious and breathing normally, put them into the recovery position and continue to monitor their conscious state and breathing.
Read more about treating someone who's been poisoned and treating alcohol poisoning.
In the case of a serious injury or illness, it's important to look out for signs of shock (see below).
Shock is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the circulatory system fails to provide enough oxygenated blood to the body and, as a result, deprives the vital organs of oxygen.
This is usually due to severe blood loss, but it can also occur after severe burns, severe vomiting, a heart attack, bacterial infection or a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
The type of shock described here isn't the same as the emotional response of feeling shocked, which can also occur after an accident.
Signs of shock include:
Seek medical help immediately if you notice that someone has any of the above signs of shock. If they do, you should:
The FAST guide is the most important thing to remember when dealing with people who have had a stroke. The earlier they receive treatment, the better. Call for emergency medical help straight away.
If you think a person has had a stroke, use the FAST guide:
Read more about the symptoms of a stroke.
In the UK, 999 has been the emergency services number for many years.
However, you can now also call 112 to get help, which is the single emergency telephone number for the EU. This number will give you access to the emergency services wherever you are in the EU.
When you call 999 or 112, you'll be asked what service you need, as well as:
The call handler may advise you on how to assist the casualty until help arrives.
A cough will usually go away within 3 weeks on its own.
Most coughs go away on their own within 3 weeks. There's usually no need to see a GP.
Hot lemon with honey has a similar effect as cough medicines.
Speak to your pharmacist if you have a cough. They can give you advice or suggest treatments to help you cough less, like cough syrups and lozenges. These won’t get rid of the cough.
Some cough medicines shouldn’t be given to children under 12.