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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 1°C

How to cope with 7 common illnesses

Mild bugs can often be dealt with at home.

THERE’S LITTLE WORSE than feeling that first tickle in your throat or rumble in your tummy that lets you know being sick is on the way.

However, many everyday illnesses can be managed and beaten without the need to visit your local GP or take any prescription medication like antibiotics.

It’s important to know that children get on average seven viral infections each year and their own immune systems can fight them. An antibiotic won’t cure these viral infections.

And don’t forget to get your child all the recommended childhood vaccines. Flu vaccine is recommended for all pregnant women, those aged over 65 and those with chronic conditions – ask your GP or find out more here.

The good news is that often we can tackle mild bugs at home without a doctor – but if you are worried about yourself or a loved one, do contact your GP for advice.

Let’s take a look at the most common complaints out there.

1. Colds

shutterstock_511842424 Shutterstock / Aleksandra Suzi Shutterstock / Aleksandra Suzi / Aleksandra Suzi

While falling victim to a cold (it’s referred to as ‘common’ for a reason) is inevitable at some stage, there are some things you can do to treat it.

Remember one thing: all colds are caused by viruses, so antibiotics (which fight bacteria) won’t work. Day one to three will be toughest, but once you get through them, it should ease. Drink plenty of water or fluids to replace those lost from sweating and runny noses. Get lots of rest and try to eat healthily. Paracetamol or ibuprofen will help ease pain, or ask your pharmacist for over-the-counter remedies for a blocked nose.

Colds should last no longer than seven days for adults, but can last longer in small children – and remember, coughs can persist for three weeks.

2. Coughs

Shutterstock / ajlatan Shutterstock / ajlatan / ajlatan

A cough will often occur with some of the other common ailments on the list, such as a flu or cold. The bad news is that there’s really no speedy solution to get rid of a cough – but you still do not usually need to see a doctor.

It will generally clear up by itself, and you can ease the symptoms with a cough syrup recommended by your pharmacist. For a tickly cough, a warm honey and lemon drink can work wonders.

If it lasts longer than three weeks, however, you should think about seeing your GP.

3. Minor earaches

Shutterstock / Aynur_sib Shutterstock / Aynur_sib / Aynur_sib

A sore ear can come out of nowhere and the pain can be sharp. This normally doesn’t last longer than a day or two. In children, earaches usually last three days and come with a runny nose, sore throat and fever.

Antibiotics are rarely needed. They do not ease pain – instead, use paracetamol or ibuprofen as they are best for pain relief.

However, if there is a discharge from the ear – which can indicate a burst eardrum – you should have it checked by your GP as antibiotics will usually be prescribed until the eardrum heals.

4. Sore throats

Shutterstock / BravissimoS Shutterstock / BravissimoS / BravissimoS

As we all probably know too well, sore throats are pretty common. Most people have two or three a year, and kids and teens may have even more. The good news is that after a week, most people will have recovered.

To get you past the pain and discomfort, try over-the-counter pain relief – paracetamol, ibuprofen or sprays with local anaesthetic can help – and avoid things that may irritate your throat. You can also eat cool, soft food and suck lozenges.

5. Flu (usually)

Shutterstock / PhotoMediaGroup Shutterstock / PhotoMediaGroup / PhotoMediaGroup

Flu symptoms include sore throat, fever and muscle pains. Again, this is a viral illness and can generally be managed at home with rest and plenty of fluids. Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen regularly will ease the symptoms.

However, those at risk of complications of flu should see their doctor – there are specific anti-viral medicines available if necessary. It’s also important to get the flu vaccine, particularly if you are in the at-risk groups (more information here).

The worst symptoms of flu usually last five to seven days, but it takes two weeks for most people to make a full recovery.

6. Slight temperature

temp Shutterstock Shutterstock

A normal temperature is between 36 and 36.8 degrees Celsius. Temperatures usually indicate an infection of some kind, or illnesses such as cold and flu. Most temperatures clear up within three days. In the case of children, the child’s overall alertness and responsiveness is generally more important than the temperature. In kids, anything above 38 degrees is considered high.

If your child exhibits any of the following symptoms, see a doctor:

  • cannot be woken up or if woken, does not stay awake
  • has a weak or high-pitched continuous cry
  • has pale or mottled skin
  • is continuously vomiting
  • is grunting (infant) or breathing very rapidly

7. Tummy problems (diarrhoea and getting sick)

Shutterstock / Kaspars Grinvalds Shutterstock / Kaspars Grinvalds / Kaspars Grinvalds

Vomiting and diarrhoea can occur together or on their own. The most common cause of an upset stomach like this is gastroenteritis – an infection caused by contaminated food or from contact with someone who’s already ill.

Vomiting usually lasts six to 12 hours, and diarrhoea a little longer (from 24 to 48 hours). Unfortunately, an upset stomach just needs time to run its course.

Drink lots of fluids to make sure you do not become dehydrated. You can get oral rehydration sachets at the pharmacy but any clear, flat, sugary fluids are good. The most important thing is to take fluids little and often and avoid food until at least six hours after vomiting.

Feeling under the weather? Check out It’s a dedicated site that’s there to give practical advice on how to mind yourself or your family when you’re sick. A collaborative effort from the HSE, GPs and pharmacists. Get well soon.

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