21 January 2020

A guide to winter illnesses

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With winter in full swing, a number of different illnesses are currently making the rounds. Throughout the winter, cold weather encourages more people to spend time together indoors. However, turning the radiators up and mingling with other people creates the perfect breeding ground for infectious viruses such as the flu.

For those who use a stair lift in their home, catching one of these illnesses can be detrimental, and sometimes have terrible consequences. In this guide, we will take a look at some of the most common winter illnesses and what you can do to help combat them.


Although it’s possible to catch a stomach bug at any point throughout the year, the norovirus is notoriously known for wreaking havoc during winter. Not only is it incredibly infectious, but you are unable to 100% protect yourself from avoiding it as the virus is constantly changing.

It is likely that you will be infected by the norovirus several times throughout your life. However, the older you are when you’re infected, the harder it can be to bounce back to full health afterwards.

The virus presents itself within 24 to 48 hours after exposure. The main symptoms are vomiting and diarrhoea, although cramps, aches and a fever can accompany this. Typically, norovirus lasts for 1-3 days, during which time it is important to stay home to avoid spreading the virus further. Disinfecting your hands, home and surfaces is important to prevent further spreading, so having separate towels and toothbrushes is a must.

Norovirus is particularly dangerous due to how quickly it can spread. As a result, the infection finds its way into hospitals annually, where those with lower immune systems can fall victim to it. With this in mind, if you think you have norovirus, stay inside and away from others for 48 hours after the symptoms have stopped as it is likely that you’re still infectious during this time.

Common cold

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Sneezing, coughing and a runny nose are all synonymous with the common cold. One of the easiest winter illnesses to treat, it is unlikely that you’ll need to see a doctor whilst struggling with these symptoms; instead, a quick trip to the pharmacist should be able to provide you with the medication needed to get back to full health.

The common cold is a viral infection you can suffer from year-round. However, cold, rainy weather can help spread the virus, meaning that it is more likely that you’ll be exposed to it during winter. When the symptoms first present themselves, it’s important to differentiate between a common cold and the flu. Although you may feel under-the-weather with a cold, you should return to normal within a few days whereas a flu can have a serious impact on your health, lasting for up-to a couple of weeks.

The symptoms of a common cold are likely to persist for a week. During the first couple of days, you are considered to be contagious, so it is best to avoid other people throughout this time. After the initial few days, you should start to feel better and the symptoms will begin to subside.


During the winter, you may find yourself struggling with a cough. Although this is a symptom of the common cold and the flu, more persistent coughs may require a trip to your doctor. The treatment of a cough can vary depending on the sort that you have; you may find that you have a dry, tickly cough or one that presents itself as chesty, meaning that mucus is produced.

When looking for a treatment for your cough, it is important that you choose one that fights the symptoms, not suppresses them. As a result, you should check the labels to see what the medication is targeting.

A cough is not normally a sign of something serious. However, if your cough persists, a trip to the doctor can provide you with peace of mind and could offer an alternative treatment.



If you feel under the weather and your symptoms go untreated, sometimes they can progress into something worse such as bronchitis. This illness comes as a result of your bronchi becoming infected. As they become more irritated and inflamed, your symptoms may present themselves as a chesty cough with mucus, as well as a sore throat; however, unlike a cough or cold, bronchitis can last for several weeks, resulting in sore stomach muscles.

Bronchitis is one of the more serious winter illnesses as failure to seek treatment can result in more serious illnesses such as pneumonia and long-term bronchitis, otherwise known as Chronic obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). When diagnosed with COPD, you may find that your cough never goes away, although it may appear better at regular intervals.

Much like a common cold or cough, there are some simple steps that you can follow at home to help lower the risk of infecting others, including the use of hand sanitiser and coughing into a tissue. Both of these things help stop the spreading of germs, so are highly recommended.

If you think that you may have bronchitis, it is best to schedule an appointment with your doctor. For milder conditions, you may be able to treat the symptoms with over-the-counter medication, but you should consult with a medical practitioner for treatment for long-term diagnoses.



The flu is one of the most dangerous winter illnesses that older people can catch, particularly if left untreated. Pneumonia, bronchitis, heart failure and death can all happen as a result of poorly managed flu, so it is important that your symptoms are checked out, particularly if they last longer than a week.

The flu shares most of its symptoms with the common cold, which is why it is sometimes hard to differentiate between the two at an early stage. However, when compared to a cold, the symptoms are more severe and last for longer, so it is important to keep that in mind.

Although cleaning and seeking over-the-counter treatment can help make the flu symptoms easier to deal with, the flu vaccination is the best way to prevent infection. The NHS offers this vaccine free to people over the age of 65, as well as those in certain medical groups. You will need this to be topped-up each year, and it is best to have the vaccination administered at the start of the flu season.