It’s that time of year again, when flu season starts, sickness bugs spread and people are generally prone to catching coughs, colds or even COVID as rates pick up again.
The good news is that most viruses, although they can make you feel miserable, will pass on their own without needing a trip to the doctor, says ZoomDoc GP, Dr Jenny Ellenbogen.
‘Treating them with rest, fluids and paracetamol is often the best way to get better, as dreadful as they can make you feel,’ she says.
Of course, you will need to see a doctor for many ailments and illnesses that appear or flare up, particularly as the days get colder and darker. So, from needing antibiotics to getting asthma medication double checked, here are some key and very valid reasons to see your GP this winter.
- Feeling SAD
If you’ve suddenly started feeling down or depressed since the end of the summer, or maybe this happened to you last year (and previous winters) you could be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
‘This is a seasonal depression where a lack of daylight is thought to affect some people’s chemicals in the brain and hormones resulting in sleep, mood and other problems,’ says Dr Jenny.
It’s not something you need to put up with though, especially if it’s making day-to-day activities more challenging than usual, or if it’s stopping you being able to work.
‘Talk to your GP about your symptoms and how they’re impacting you. If it is depression you may need some antidepressants to help you get back on your feet and back to work if it’s preventing you,’ she says.
- A cough that won’t go away
We’ve become pretty accustomed to linking coughs with COVID ever since the pandemic drilled those three key symptoms into us: a cough, fever and loss of smell or taste.
However, it’s also important to recognise that a lingering or worsening cough can be caused by other more serious conditions and shouldn’t simply be presumed to be COVID or viral.
‘A viral cough will usually get better or disappear in a week or two. A cough that doesn’t go away after 3 weeks, or a long-standing cough that gets worse, could be a sign of something more serious, such as lung cancer – especially if you have other symptoms like coughing up blood or persistent breathlessness,’ says Dr Jenny.
Always get a concerning cough checked out because as with so many cancers, the earlier you detect it, the easier it can be to treat.
- Unusual lumps, bumps or rashes
At this time of year GP practices will be busy but if you do find a concerning symptom, such as a breast lump, bruising or a rash that wasn’t there before, don’t be put off trying to get an appointment.
‘Don’t wait until spring to do something about it. If it isn’t something serious then you’ll get peace of mind quicker. If it is something of concern then the sooner you start treatment the better,’ says Dr Jenny.
- Illness with persistent fever
Lots of viruses circulate over the winter and while they can make you feel unwell there’s little a doctor can do to speed up your recovery.
However, a fever can be a sign of an infection. If you have an ear infection or throat infection such as laryngitis or tonsillitis, you may need antibiotics to clear it up.
‘Infections can get better on their own but if you’ve been unwell or get worse and have a persistent fever it is worth seeing a doctor to get a prescription,’ says Dr Jenny.
If you have a virus such as COVID, flu, norovirus or something else and feel particularly unwell or are getting worse not better, contact your GP or get medical advice via 111.
- Asthma flare-ups
Cold air is bad for most people with asthma as it can irritate the bronchial tubes and trigger asthma symptoms.
‘If your asthma seems worse or you find you are needing to use your inhaler more than usual, speak to your doctor about reviewing your treatment,’ says Dr Jenny.
Medical help – remember your options this winter
To help take pressure off GP practices and ensure there are appointments for those who really need them, here’s a reminder of your options for non-urgent and urgent health matters…
GP – Your GP is there to help with all of the above conditions and illnesses. If you’re unwell but it’s not life-threatening this should be your first call.
Can’t get an appointment that suits you, or need a second opinion? Download the ZoomDoc app and you can have a video appointment with a UK-based GP for just £35. We can arrange a prescription if required or supply you with a GP referral letter (extra charge applies) if you need to see a specialist.
Pharmacist – Pharmacists are trained to be able to diagnose minor ailments and recommend suitable medicines that may help. If they suspect it may be something more serious, they will recommend you see a GP, nurse or other healthcare professional.
111 – For out-of-hours medical assistance, when you can’t get hold of your GP, 111 can help arrange a phone consultation or make an appointment with an out-of-hours GP or at an urgent treatment centre if required.
999 – always call 999 or go straight to A&E for anything serious such as heart attack, loss of consciousness, choking, seizures, breathing difficulties, serious accidents and heavy bleeding.