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What we have to say about your health and well being
21
Jan 2015
Lifestyle Pharmacy’s guide to Winter Health
Colder temperatures, longer nights and shorter days bring extra health risks, but there are ways to make sure you stay fit and healthy this winter, whatever the weather. Read on to find out how to protect yourself from common ailments during the colder months. Colds & Flu The common cold is probably the biggest nuisance of winter. It's a viral infection that can be transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces and by inhaling airborne droplets - virus particles can travel through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Colds are caused by a large range of viruses and usually result in mild, self-limiting symptoms that develop over 1-2 days and can last for up to 14 days. Symptoms include a runny or blocked nose, hoarse voice, coughing & sneezing and feeling unwell. Seasonal Influenza (Flu) is caused by a single family of the influenza virus. Flu is transmitted in the same way as colds but generally causes more severe symptoms, but crucially, it isn't just a heavy cold! Flu symptoms develop more suddenly, peak after 2-3 days and can last up to 10 days. Flu symptoms may bear the hallmark of a common cold but can also include headache, chills, tiredness, muscle aches, upset stomach, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping. If symptoms are very severe or vary from the above greatly, it may be advisable to discuss with your Pharmacist. Most of the time you won't need to visit the GP and Flu symptoms will go away within a couple of weeks, but if you're pregnant, over 65, have underlying health problems such as diabetes or asthma, or have a weakened immune system, speak to your GP as they may want to monitor you more closely. So, what can be done to minimise the risk? Regular hand-washing throughout the day will reduce the risk of transferring colds and flu from contaminated surfaces to mouths and nasal passages. Transmission can also be reduced by catching sneezes in tissues and disposing of them as soon as possible, and by cleaning surfaces regularly - catch it, bin it, kill it! The seasonal flu vaccine is another useful weapon against infection. Each year the flu virus can change - so the World Health Organisation ensures that all vaccines contain protection against that year's strains. The flu vaccine is offered free on the NHS to anyone over the age of 65, pregnant women and children & adults with an underlying health condition or weakened immune system. It is available each year from mid-September onwards and can be obtained for those who do not meet the above criteria in pharmacies through to the end of February, so it's not too late! Children aged 2, 3 and 4 can get a nasal spray flu vaccination on the NHS, and those aged 5 to 17 can get it privately. And don't worry, a flu vaccination cannot give someone Flu or a cold as it doesn't contain any active form of the virus, but mild symptoms can be experienced for a day or so after vaccination whilst it gets to work. As the winter sets in, a good sleep pattern and a healthy diet will increase your chances of staying well throughout the season. It is recommended that we aim for around 8 hours of sleep a night and the winter can be an opportunity to make the most of sleep as beds are nice and cosy compared to the chilly weather outside. Make sure you have a well-balanced, healthy diet (aiming for your 5-a-day!), but otherwise you can keep yourself topped up with nutrients by taking a supplement containing a good range vitamins and minerals in sufficiently high concentrations (we recommend PharmaNord's Bio-Multi Vitamin and Mineral supplement). Anyone looking to take a herbal supplement should buy a good quailty Echinacea product (we recommend A. Vogel's Echinaforce) in drop or tablet form. Echinacea works by stimulating and strenghthening the immune system to help you fight cold and flu infections more easily. A word of caution - it shouldn't be taken by children under 12 years or by pregnant or breastfeeding women. But what about treatment? Treatment of colds and flu is aimed mainly towards symptom management (remember – most colds and flu get better by themselves) and antibiotics are not effective against colds and flu as they're caused by viruses and not bacteria. Simple painkillers such as paracetamol and Ibuprofen can be taken by children and adults to alleviate aches, pain and fever. For nasal and sinus congestion a decongestant may help relieve discomfort – they come in oral or nasal spray form, but aren't suitable for everyone, so check with the Pharmacy team first. If you have high blood pressure or underlying heart problem, you may be advised that good old-fashioned steam inhalation with menthol or eucalyptus-type products is the safest bet. Cough symptoms can be treated depending on whether they are chesty/productive or dry/tickly and it's important to get the right product. For instance, suppressing a chesty cough may lead to a worsening of a chest infection. Sugar-free versions are available for those with diabetes. There are also anaesthetic throat and lozenges available to numb sore and uncomfortable throats. There is some evidence to suggest that taking high doses of Zinc and Vitamin C will reduce the duration of cold symptoms. And finally, make sure you stay rested and well hydrated when ill with a cold or flu. Whetever you treat yourself with, always read the packaging for information on dosage, age ranges and cautions and if in any doubt speak to a Pharmacist of member of the Pharmacy team for advice, especially if you already take medicines prescribed by your GP. Staying Warm Aside from colds and flu, the decrease in temperature during the winter months can cause skin problems. Not only is the weather air outside drier, but also it is more likely that we will turn up our heating and have hotter showers. This combination of changes can cause dry skin complications such as chapped lips, chilblains and generally irritated skin. Chapped lips can be treated by using lip balms and products such as Vaseline or Blistex creams (and balms) for lip therapy. Anyone who suffers from dry skin can purchase one of many moisturising products available in supermarkets and pharmacies. Moisturisers can be applied regularly, every few hours, to the affected skin to avoid irritating dryness. Chilblains are small, itchy swellings on the skin that occur as a reaction to cold temperatures. They most often affect the body's extremities, such as the toes, fingers, heels, ears and nose. They usually develop several hours after exposure to the cold and cause burning and itching especially when reintroduced to a warm room. Chilblains may swell, turn red/purple and blister. It's important not to scratch them as the skin can break and lead to infection. Chilblains can be avoided by keeping warm (wearing gloves, thick socks and warm footwear outdoors) and by keeping active. They will often resolve by themselves after a week or two, but if they are troublesome and frequently return it is advisable to discuss it with your Pharmacist. Seasonal Affective Disorder Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a term that describes a type of depression experienced in the darker months of winter. It is thought that the reduced amount of sunlight present as a result of shorter, darker days causes a change in the amount of certain chemicals (serotonin and melatonin) in the brain. Tips to reduce developing SAD include getting outdoors during the sunny hours of the day, taking a holiday during the winter months and taking regular exercise (especially outdoors). People who suffer from SAD can tell their friends and family so that they know and can better understand their condition. Light therapy is a form of therapy for SAD that involves exposure to a special light for one session a day. These lights emit a lot more light than an ordinary light bulb. If you think you suffer from depression during the winter it may be worth speaking to your GP or Pharmacist for more advice. A GP can also prescribe medication to help treat depression experienced in the winter. Exercise Don't use the cold winter months as an excuse to hibernate. Instead, get outside and maybe try out a new activity – jogging, swimming, or taking a bracing winter walk through the park.Regular exercise is vital in maintaining a healthy weight, stimulate your immune system, and is a good way to relieve the potential boredom of the winter months. For advice and further info about anything in this article, please don't hesitate to contact us at Lifestyle Pharmacy on 01225 465576, on Twitter @LifestyleBath or at www.lifestylepharmacybath.co.uk Sean Forster, Pre-registration Pharmacist
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15 Westgate Street
Bath
Somerset
BA1 1EQ
01225 465576
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1115488, Owned by: Lifestylle Pharmacy, Westgate Limited
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Nick Daines
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