Common Illnesses and Accidents
Many common aches and pains can be simply treated at home without the need to consult a doctor.
Most people will have low back pain at some time in their lives, and the vast majority will recover with little or no treatment within six weeks. Usually arising from the discs, joints of the spine, muscles or ligaments, the pain is described as ‘mechanical’. This type of pain is commonest between the ages of 20 and 50. Pain spreading to the foot or toes is sciatica and merits seeing your doctor if not resolving in a few days. Current advice is to keep going and continue normal daily activities including work, as rest may actually prolong back pain. Use simple pain killers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
You should seek medical attention if any of the following occur:
- The pain lasts more than 6 weeks
- Weakness of legs
- Numbness in the groin or buttocks
- Loss of control of bladder or bowels
- Aching pain at night disturbing sleep
- You have fever, sweating or chills
Bed sores are far easier to prevent than cure. They are caused by prolonged pressure to certain parts of the body when lying in bed for long periods.
They can be prevented by encouraging the patient to shift position as often as possible and taking care to smooth out creases in the bottom sheet which could lead to localised irritation. Keep your eye open for red marks appearing on the pressure points such as heels, elbows, buttocks and hips and, if they begin to appear, inform the doctor before they get worse.
For minor burns, hold the affected area under cold water for at least 10 minutes or until the pain subsides. Remove jewellery etc. and cover the burn with clean, non-fluffy material to protect from infection. Cloth, a clean plastic bag or kitchen film all make good dressings. If a minor burn is larger than a postage stamp it requires medical attention. All deep burns of any size require urgent hospital treatment.
On all burns:
- Do not use lotions, ointments and creams.
- Do not use adhesive dressings.
- Do not break blisters.
Chickenpox blisters are usually less than a quarter of an inch wide, have a reddish base, and appear in bouts over 2 to 4 days. The rash may be more extensive or severe in kids who have skin disorders such as eczema. Some children have a fever, abdominal pain, sore throat, headache, or a vague sick feeling a day or 2 before the rash appears. These symptoms may last for a few days, and fever stays in the range of 37.7°–38.8° Celsius, though in rare cases may be higher. Younger children often have milder symptoms and fewer blisters than older children or adults. Calamine lotion may be applied to soothe the often severe itching. Cool baths may also help. The most infectious period is from two or three days before the rash appears and up to five days after this date.
Children may return to school seven days after the outbreak of the most recent crop of spots.
Head Lice (Nits)
Head lice are common in children, but can affect anyone of any age. They are not a sign of dirty hair or poor hygiene. Close ‘hair to hair’ contact is usually needed to pass lice on. Head lice cannot jump or fly, but walk from one head to another. They soon die when away from hair, and do not live in clothes, bedding, etc. Most head lice infections are caught from family or close friends who are not aware that they have head lice. Currently, there are three main ways of clearing head lice: Using an insecticide lotion. Using dimeticone lotion, a lotion that works in a different way to insecticides. Wet combing treatment (often called ‘bug-busting’). The method you use to treat the lice is often a personal preference. Each method has a good chance of success, but no method is 100% certain of clearing lice. Each method is now discussed further.
Insect Bites and Stings
If you are stung by a wasp, bee, hornet, etc, then scrape out the sting as quickly as possible. Do not pluck it out as this may squeeze more venom into the skin. In most cases the sting causes pain and slight swelling, but has little other effect. Some people are allergic to stings and can develop reactions that can be life-threatening. Call an ambulance immediately if you suspect an allergic reaction soon after being stung. Insect bites (not stings) rarely cause serious allergic reactions but can cause small itchy lumps to appear on the skin. Itch may be eased by a soothing ointment, antihistamine tablets, or steroid cream. Some insects infest pets, furniture, etc, and can cause repeated bites. Antihistamine tablets can be obtained from the chemist without prescription and will usually relieve most symptoms.
Fever in Children
It is worthwhile purchasing a digital electronic thermometer, which is best placed in the child’s armpit to record the temperature – forehead thermometers are less accurate. The infra-red type that measures the temperature of the ear drum is the most reliable. Significant fever is defined as a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or more. Most cases are viral and will recover rapidly. Use paracetamol or ibuprofen if needed to lower the temperature, but we no longer recommend tepid sponging. Give plenty of fluids.
However, there are circumstances when you need to seek medical advice:
- An infant under 3 months
- Fever lasing more than 5 days
- A rash that doesn’t blanch on pressure – see below
- Unusual sleepiness
- Dry nappies or not passing much urine
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty breathing
The glass test is used on rashes to exclude serious illness. Press a clear glass or plastic tumbler firmly onto the affected skin; the rash should fade or blanch as blood is squeezed out of the skin – if it doesn’t, seek urgent medical attention.
Diarrhoea and Vomiting
Many babies have diarrhoea and vomiting 3 times a year. Most vomiting gets better within 3 days and diarrhoea within a week, but 2 weeks is possible. Medication is rarely of any benefit. Give small amount of fluids often, even to a child who is vomiting. Avoid fruit juices and carbonated drinks. In severe cases an oral rehydration mixture is recommended that can be bought from Pharmacies. If a child is hungry and willing to take feeds, continue them. Continue breast feeding. There is no need to starve the patient. A diet of bland carbohydrate such as rice and soups is a good start during recovery. A child under 1 year ill for more than 2 days should see a doctor. If there is a fever, see specific advice.
Signs of worsening illness to look out for are:
- Decreased urine output or few or dry nappies
- Dry mouth or tongue
- Pale or cold skin
- Blood in motions
- Lethargy or unusual sleepiness
Gastroenteritis in adults is rarely serious. Drink plenty of fluids, say 200ml after each loose stool. If you are vomiting, take small sips of fluid slowly. Resume a normal diet as soon as you feel well enough. For diarrhoea, over the counter medication such as loperamide is useful.
Seek medical advice if:
- There is blood in the stools
- You have worsening abdominal pain
- You develop a high fever
- There is drowsiness or confusion
- You have diarrhoea for more than a week
- You have recently come back from abroad
- You have recently been discharged from hospital