Health: When to be patient

Have a few belly laughs and let your hair down

Have a few belly laughs and let your hair down - Credit: Archant

Time is a great healer, so if you’re unwell, give yourself some, says Dr Matt Piccaver

Why do we go to the doctor? Perhaps it’s a strange question? It might be because we feel unwell. Perhaps we’re worried that something serious is going on? Are we looking for someone who may not be able to help, but can at least point us in the right direction?

One of the commonest things I hear is “I don’t have time to be ill”. Me neither. I’ve yet to meet someone who does. Pressured lives, obligations and a desire not to disappoint others may drive us to find the quick fix. The thing is, for many problems, there is no quick fix. The posters all tell us to come early with a problem, yet coming too early makes a diagnosis difficult. I’ve had people come within hours of the onset of symptoms. A slight niggle, a call to 111 for advice, and before they know it they’re sat in front of me.

Sometimes it’s hard to know if we’re ill. This might be a strange thing to suggest. Feelings are individual. Unique to us. Pain is what we say it is. We may all call a sensation pain, but how we interpret it might be completely different. This is why it is so hard to measure.

I often meet people in the early stages of a minor illness. A cough can be troubling. I know when I have a cold, I can set my clock by the time it starts – usually 2am in my case. I can tell because this is the time my wife elbows me to stop coughing. Either that or snoring. So far, it hasn’t proved an effective remedy.

A cough, in the absence of any serious features such as shortness of breath, or coughing up blood, may not be too much to worry about, especially if it lasts than three weeks, although there is always an exception to the rule. A sore throat, runny nose, cough with a bit of green or yellow phlegm (called sputum) probably isn’t too much to worry about. We’re allowed to be ill. Most coughs and colds get better on their own, which is why we tend not to prescribe anything. Some people take over-the-counter remedies, some take honey and lemon, some just lump it. Blocked noses, mild sinusitis, short lived ear ache and even mild conjunctivitis usually settle without any help what so ever.

Regardless of whether we have time to be ill, many minor ailments take their time to resolve. Don’t be afraid to put your feet up, take it easy and let your body do the rest. Serious illness needs a doctor, minor illness usually no more than time and a little TLC.

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