Common Ailments (for adults)

(for child common ailments see our "Child Health - Common Ailments" section)

Colds and Flu

Colds are very commonplace, and while they can be extremely unpleasant to put up with, they are not usually serious, with recovery taking place in a matter of a few days.

You are more likely to catch a cold during the winter months – although cold weather itself is not a cause, and it’s quite normal to catch a cold even at the height of summer. On average, people will have between two and four colds a year.

The cold virus is passed by coughing and sneezing, which sprays tiny droplets of infected mucus into the air. Contact with people’s hands after they have been blowing their nose can also spread the infection.

The symptoms of a cold usually begin two or three days after infection, and last for two days to two weeks. Most fit and healthy people will recover from a cold within a week, and unless someone is old, frail or has a serious health condition, then it is not usually necessary to see a doctor.

Rest and drinking plenty of warm fluids will help to ease the symptoms.

Flu is also caused by a virus, but the symptoms can be more severe than the common cold. The flu virus spreads into the lungs and airways, and the main symptoms include a high temperature and aches and pains, often accompanied by a loss of appetite, nausea and a dry cough.

Most people will begin to feel better within a few days, although they may feel tired for two or three weeks after the worst symptoms have disappeared.

Flu vaccination is recommended for certain groups of people, including pregnant women, the over-65s, people living in care homes, the main carers of elderly or disabled people, and anyone over six months old with a chronic condition including a heart problem, asthma, kidney disease or diabetes. Flu vaccination may also be recommended for people whose immune system is compromised by disease or treatment.

Most healthy people who catch flu will not require medical treatment and will only need to rest for a few days. It is a good idea to avoid coming into contact with others if possible, to help prevent the spread of the virus. For further advice, contact NHS 24 on 111.

Stomach bugs

Upset stomachs, including nausea, sickness and diarrhoea, can be caused by a range of infections, including a virus or food poisoning. If your or a family member are sick, it is important to clean all areas that have been in contact with vomit to minimise the risk of any infection spreading.

After a bout of vomiting, rest your stomach for an hour, and then try to drink small amounts of water or rehydration fluid. If vomiting occurs again, then rest for another hour and try sipping fluids again. Several hours after the sickness has passed, try eating bland foods, such as toast or dry biscuits, but avoid milk.

It is also important to drink plenty of fluids if you are suffering from diarrhoea, and you can eat small amounts of bland foods, such as bread, potatoes or biscuits, avoiding high-fibre foods like fruit until your bowel movements are more solid and you can return to your normal diet.

If the condition worsens or new symptoms develop, call NHS 24 on 111

Last Reviewed: 02/05/2014