Cold weather can make some health problems worse, especially for those aged 65 and over, or if you have a long-term health condition such as heart or kidney disease, COPD, bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, or diabetes. Even for those in full health, winter can bring with it coughs, colds, and flu bugs.
The cold and damp weather, ice, snow, and high winds can all aggravate any existing health problems and make us more vulnerable to respiratory winter illnesses. But there are lots of things you can do to stay well this winter.
Stay healthy and well this winter and be prepared using the advice below. Seek help when needed using the most appropriate local NHS services listed below, and stock your medicine cabinet with the essentials so you can treat common health conditions like sore throats, colds, and coughs at home.
Make sure you get your flu jab
The flu virus strikes in winter and it can be far more serious than you think. Flu can lead to serious complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia. That’s why the flu jab is free if you’re aged 65 or over, or if you have a long-term health condition. If you have young children or grandchildren they may also be eligible for a free flu vaccination. If you are the main carer of an older or disabled person, you may also be eligible for the free flu jab. Just speak to your GP or pharmacist.
You can also find more information at www.nhs.uk/fluvaccine. Also, don’t forget that if you’re aged 65 or over, you are eligible for the pneumococcal vaccine, which will help protect you from pneumococcal diseases such as pneumonia. Ask your GP.
It is important to keep warm in winter – both inside and outdoors. Keeping warm over the winter months can help to prevent colds, flu, and more serious health problems. Breathing cold air can be bad for your health as it increases the risk of chest infections. Make sure you’re receiving all the help that you’re entitled to.
There are grants, benefits, and sources of advice available to make your home more energy-efficient, improve your heating or help with bills.
Visit www.gov.uk/browse/benefits/heating for further information. And check your heating and cooking appliances are safe. Contact a Gas Safe registered engineer to make sure they’re operating properly, visit www.gassaferegister.co.uk
Food gives you energy, which helps to keep you warm. Try to have regular hot meals and drinks throughout the day. Find out more about eating well on the NHS website here https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/
Mental health support
We all feel down from time to time, no matter our age. But if you’ve not been feeling yourself for a while, contact your GP practice about talking therapy if you’re feeling anxious, low, or out of sorts. Your GP is there to help you – physically and mentally – and can refer you to the right services.
Check your medicine cabinet
Ask your pharmacist what medicines should be in your cabinet to help get you and your family through the winter season. Many over-the-counter medicines (including paracetamol and ibuprofen) are available to relieve symptoms of common winter ailments such as colds, sinusitis, or painful middle ear infection (earache). Your pharmacist can help if you need any advice. To manage winter illness symptoms at home, you should keep warm, rest, drink plenty of fluids, and use over-the-counter medications to help give relief.
For more information search ‘medicine cabinet’ on www.nhs.uk
Washing your hands with soap and water is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself and others from illnesses such as food poisoning, diarrhoea, flu, and coronavirus. Wash your hands thoroughly for the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice (around 20 seconds). Washing your hands properly removes dirt, viruses, and bacteria to stop them from spreading to other people and objects. If you do not have immediate access to soap and water then use alcohol-based hand wash.
Make sure you get your prescription medicines before your pharmacy or GP practice closes for Christmas. If you’ve been prescribed antibiotics or any other medication, make sure you take them as directed. Don’t go to a pharmacy if you have symptoms of coronavirus or are self-isolating. You can order prescriptions via GP or pharmacy websites and apps or by calling them. Ask a friend, relative, or volunteer to collect medicines for you. You can also order your repeat prescriptions via the NHS App, as well as make GP appointments. The NHS App is available on the App Store and Google Play. For more information visit www.nhs.uk/nhsapp
Look out for other people
Remember that other people, such as older neighbours, friends, and family members, may need a bit of extra help over the winter. There’s a lot you can do to help people. Icy pavements and roads can be very slippery, and cold weather can stop people from getting out and about. Keep in touch with your friends, neighbours, and family and ask if they need any practical help, or if they’re feeling under the weather. Make sure they’re stocked up with enough food supplies for a few days, in case they can’t go out. If they do need to go out in the cold, encourage them to wear shoes with a good grip and a scarf around the mouth to protect them from the cold air, and to reduce their risk of chest infections. Make sure they get any prescription medicines before the Christmas holidays start and if bad weather is forecast. If they need help over the holiday period when the GP practice or pharmacy is closed or they’re not sure what to do, NHS 111 can help.
Where to go for the right medical help
Dial 999 for life-threatening emergencies
Contact NHS 111 If you need medical help fast, but it’s not life-threatening or think you need to go to an Emergency Department (A&E), a 111 adviser will assess you and direct you to the best placed service in your area. NHS 111 is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Calls are free from landlines and mobile phones. Use NHS 111 online at https://111.nhs.uk or by phone. If you have difficulties communicating or hearing, you can use the BSL interpreter SignVideo service here https://signvideo.co.uk/nhs119/ or call 18001 111 on a text phone.
For all other health needs, contact your pharmacy or GP practice. GP practices offer consultations online or by phone. You can also access NHS advice and information at www.nhs.uk
If you have symptoms of coronavirus, get tested as soon as possible; apply via www.nhs.uk/coronavirus , or call 119. The service is also available by textphone on 18001 119 and the NHS 119 BSL interpreter SignVideo service at https://signvideo.co.uk/nhs119/