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Self-care makes up 80% of all care in the UK. Self-care means knowing how to keep fit and healthy, how to deal with medicines appropriately, manage self-treatable conditions and when to seek appropriate clinical help. Our Small Steps, Big Change campaign is all about making little changes to improve the healthcare of yourself and others.

Self-care is the best choice to treat minor illnesses and injuries by ensuring you have a well-stocked medicine cabinet, and seeking advice from your local pharmacist. It is especially important during winter, when illnesses like coughs, colds, flus and sore throats are more common.

Minor illnesses

Did you know? Antibiotics are not an effective treatment for winter symptoms such as a cough, cold, sore throat, flu or nasal congestion. These symptoms are caused by viruses and antibiotics only work against bacteria. If you take antibiotics unnecessarily then they may not work when you need them to treat a bacterial infection. Why not save yourself a trip to your GP and pop into your local pharmacy first for expert advice?


You can expect symptoms to last for up to 3 weeks.

Self-care tips:

  • Try not to cough: You may be able to cough less often by trying not to cough. Our desire to cough can sometimes be influenced by our brain
  • Home remedies: Try simple home remedies, such as ‘honey and lemon’ – just add freshly squeezed juice from one lemon and a teaspoon of honey to a mug of hot water. Drink at least 6 to 9 glasses of water in a day and suck lozenges
  • Stop smoking: Smoking is one of the most common reasons for a chronic cough. Stopping smoking, or at least smoking less not only improves your cough, but also benefits your health in other ways (reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, and lung cancer, for example)

If you cough up blood, have chest or shoulder pain, breathlessness, weight loss, voice changes, new lumps or swellings or your cough lasts longer than 3-4 weeks, you should speak to your GP or pharmacist.


You can expect symptoms to last for around 1½ weeks.

Self-care tips:

  • Rest: Get some rest until you feel better – we usually know when we’re well enough to return to normal activities
  • Diet: Eat healthily, including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Fluids: Drink plenty of fluids to replace those lost from sweating and a runny nose

If you develop a high fever (over 39°C), feel confused, have chest pain, blood-stained phlegm, difficulty breathing, swelling in your glands or if your symptoms last longer than 3 weeks, speak to your GP or pharmacist.

Sore throat

Self-care tips:

  • Home remedies: You can relieve symptoms by eating cool, soft food, as well as sucking lozenges, ice cubes, ice lollies or hard sweets. Gargling with warm, salty water may also help reduce swelling and pain
  • Cut down on smoking: Avoid smoking and smoky environments as much as you can
  • Fluids: Drink at least 6 to 9 glasses of fluid (preferably water) every day particularly if you also have a fever

If you have frequent sore throats that do not respond to pain killers, a high fever (over 38°C) over three or more days or if your symptoms are no better after two weeks, you should speak to your pharmacist or GP.

Healthy eating

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health, and can help you feel your best. You should try to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein, drink plenty of fluids and base meals on starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta. You can find out more from The Eatwell Guide.

Keeping fit with exercise

If exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented. Find out how you could benefit from being more physically active from NHS Choices.

Pharmacy Support

Your pharmacist is trained to give advice on a range of issues including the management of minor ailments. 

Many have now adapted their premises to provide individual consultation rooms giving a confidential environment for patients to discuss their medication or condition as necessary.

A lot of pharmacies are now open extended hours when other services may not be available – this includes some opening late into the night and Sundays and Bank Holidays.

To find a list of the pharmacy opening times nearest to you, put your postcode into the search tool on the NHS Choices website and click search.


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