Sunday 25 September 2016

Stay home with the flu but go to your doctor with chest pain

Nina Byrnes

Published 20/10/2015 | 02:30

Decongestant medicine is not suitable for everyone.
Decongestant medicine is not suitable for everyone.

Our GP gives advice on the best remedies for a cold and to visit a GP if you have chest pain.

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Question: I get a cold every winter. I don't like rushing to the doctor when I am sick. What remedies can I use at home to make me feel better?

Dr Nina replies: The best way to avoid getting the flu at all is to make sure you are vaccinated. The vaccine is available now from GPs and pharmacists for those considered at risk. Many employers also offer the vaccine to employees and it is worth getting if this is the case where you work.

If you are unlucky enough to be struck down with a flu-like illness, there is no need to rush to the doctor. There are a number of remedies you can try at home.

Fever can be very debilitating. Medicines such as paracetamol and ibuprofen will help reduce any fever you may have. They can be taken separately or together as they work differently. Paracetamol and ibuprofen will also help ease sore throats and muscle aches and pains.

Nasal congestion can cause great discomfort - it can leave you feeling groggy and make headaches worse. Decongestant medicine can help relieve these symptoms and make it easier to clear nasal passages of mucus that has gathered. There are a number of over-the-counter sprays and tablets available.

Decongestant medicine should only be used for a few days at a time. They are not suitable for everyone, especially those who have blood pressure or heart problems, and you should discuss this with your doctor or pharmacist before taking them. Simple remedies, such as vapour rubs, may help and are suitable for most ages.

There isn't much evidence that cough syrups or antihistamines help with colds and flu and they can have other side effects so these are not routinely recommended.

It is important to get as much rest as you can.

Drink plenty of fluids. These will help keep you hydrated and the steam from warm drinks can also help relieve nasal congestion.

Blow your nose regularly. Gently blowing one nostril then the other is most effective and less likely to cause discomfort. There are a number of nasal sprays and rinses available. These can help clear nasal congestion and make breathing easier.

Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables will ensure your immune system has all the nutrients it needs.

Most colds and flu pass over seven to 10 days. If you are feeling better, stick it out at home. If you are getting worse, it is time to make that call to your GP.

Question: I went to my doctor recently with chest pain. He told me not to worry and diagnosed me with a condition called costochondritis. I have been prescribed painkillers. I'm still sore. What is this and how long will it last?

Dr Nina replies: Cartilage is a flexible tissue that is found in the joints between bones. The area of cartilage that joins your ribs to your breast bone is called the costochondral joint. When we breath, the ribs and cartilage move up and out.

Costochondritis causes pain and tenderness over the chest wall. This pain can mimic a heart attack and can be quite severe. It is thought to account for about 10pc of cases of chest pain in those attending their GP.

The risk of costochondritis increases with any activity that causes stress to the chest wall. Examples include severe coughing or heavy lifting.

Costochondritis occurs most commonly in women over the age of 40. A similar condition called Tietze's syndrome causes swelling along with pain. This is more common in children and young adolescents.

There are many causes of chest pain, some serious, so it is important to attend your GP for a proper diagnosis. They will ask you to describe the pain and its location, and will examine you, checking your heart and lungs along with the muscles of the chest wall. There is no test to diagnose costochondritis, but your doctor may carry out other tests such as an electrocardiogram or bloods to rule out other causes.

Costochondritis classically causes soreness on pressure over your ribs, so don't be surprised if your doctor presses down onto your chest wall.

Painkillers such as paracetamol may help, but more often, anti-inflammatory medicine such as diclofenac or ibuprofen is prescribed.

The outlook is quite good with most cases passing in six to eight weeks. It rarely lasts longer.

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