Self Care for Common Complaints
On this Page:
- Allergy Symptoms
- GI Upset, Nausea, Vomiting & Diarrhea
- Menstrual Cramps
- Poison Ivy
- Sprains, Strains, & Pains
- Upper Respiratory Problems
- Wound Care
Hayfever or Seasonal Allergies
An allergy is an overreaction by your immune system to an otherwise harmless substance, such as pollen or pet dander. Contact with this substance, called an allergen, triggers production of the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE causes immune cells in the lining of your eyes and airways to release inflammatory substances, including histamine.
When these chemical are released, they produce the familiar symptoms of allergy – itchy, red and swollen eyes, a stuffy or runny nose, frequent sneezing and cough, hives or bumps on the skin. This allergic reaction causes or aggravates some forms of asthma.
Substances found outdoors, indoors and in the foods you eat can cause allergic reactions. The most common allergens are inhaled:
- Pollen: Spring, summer and autumn are the pollen producing seasons in most climates. During these seasons, exposure to airborne pollen from trees grasses and weeds in inevitable.
- Dust mites: House dust harbors all kinds of potential allergens, including dust mites, pollen and molds. House dust is a cause of year-round allergy symptoms.
- Pet dander: Dogs and especially cats are the most common animals to cause allergic reactions. The animal’s dander (skin flakes), saliva, urine and sometimes hair are the main culprits.
- Molds: Many people are sensitive to airborne mold spores. Outdoor molds produce spores mostly in the summer and early autumn. Indoor molds shed spores all year long.
It’s not clear why some people become sensitive to allergens such as pollen. However, the tendency to develop allergies is inherited. If you’re bothered by allergies, chances are someone in your immediate family also copes with allergic reactions. You won’t necessarily be sensitive to the same allergens.
If your symptoms are mild, over–the-counter allergy medicines (usually a combination of an antihistamine and decongestant) may be all the treatment you need.
You may need further evaluation if:
- You experience excessive drowsiness using the combination product.
- No relief of symptoms.
- Fever, facial pressure or swelling and thick colored nasal discharge.
A cough is a reflex – just like breathing. It’s actually a way of protecting your lungs against irritants. When your breathing passages, called bronchi, have secretions in them, you cough to clear the passages so you can breathe more easily. A small amount of coughing is ordinary and even healthy as a way to maintain clear breathing passages.
Strong or persistent coughing can be an irritant to your breathing passages. Repeated coughing causes your bronchi to constrict. This can irritate the membranes (the interior "walls" of your breathing passages).
Coughing is frequently a symptom of a viral upper respiratory tract infection, which is an infection of your nose, sinuses and airways. A cold and influenza are common examples. Your voice box may become inflamed (laryngitis) causing hoarseness, which could affect your ability to speak. Coughing also may result from throat irritation caused by the drainage of mucus down the back of your throat (postnasal drainage).
Coughing also occurs with chronic disorders. People with allergies and asthma have bouts of involuntary coughing, as do people who smoke. Irritants in the environment, such as smog, dust, secondhand smoke and cold or dry air can cause coughing. Sometimes coughing is caused by stomach acid that back up into your esophagus or in rare cases, your lungs (gastroesophageal reflex).
- Drink plenty of fluids (they help to keep your throat clear and your secretions thin. Drink water or fruit juices – not soda or coffee.
- Use a humidifier (the air in your home can get very dry, especially during the winter. Dry air irritates your throat when you have a cold. Using a humidifier to moisturize the air will make breathing easier).
- Use honey, hard candy or a medicated throat lozenges to soothe a simple throat irritation. Try drinking a cup of tea sweetened with honey.
- Use expectorants (these medications help you to clear your throat of mucus. They may increase the flow of normal fluids in your throat and help relieve some of the pain (Robitussin).
- Try cough suppressants (these are available in both liquid and solid form. They act on the portion of your brain that controls your cough reflex. Mild over-the-counter versions are available. Stronger versions are available only by prescription.
- Use a nasal decongestant (Sudafed, with or without an antihistamine for postnasal drainage).
- If a backup of stomach acids causes your cough, try sleeping with the head of your bed elevated 4 to 6 inches. Avoid food and drink within 2 to 3 hours of bedtime.
Seek medical evaluation:
- If your cough lasts more than 2 to 3 weeks
- If it is accompanied by fever
- If it is accompanied by shortness of breathe or bloody phlegm
GI Upset, Nausea, Vomiting & Diarrhea
Stomach upset has a variety of causes, such as dietary indiscretions, viral, menstrual, alcohol or stress. Usually these are self limiting, lasting 12-36 hours. Most can be handled by limiting intake to clear fluids and eating only tolerable foods.
Clear liquids include:
- Ice chips
- Apple juice
- Clear broth
- Ginger ale
Foods usually tolerated well:
Avoid milk products, fatty foods, raw vegetables or fruits, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
Stop eating or drinking for a few hours, and then try ice chips and clear liquids in small amounts every hour. Use Pepto Bismol tablets or liquid per package instructions.
Signs of dehydration:
- Extreme thirst
- Light headedness
- Infrequent and very dark urine
- Dry mouth
- Diarrhea (more than 6 episodes in a 24 hour period)
The following signs and symptoms are an indication for medical evaluation:
- Fever over 101
- Recent foreign travel
- Abdominal pain (not cramps)
- Vomiting more than 6 times in past 24 hours
- Unable to retain any liquids in past 12 hours
At least 90% of people have headaches at one time or another. More people complain about headaches than any other physical problem. Types of headaches vary and so do the methods used to treat them.
It is important to recognize the kinds of headaches you are having prevent and treat them appropriately and know when to seek medical help.
The most common type of headaches are Muscle Contraction Headaches, or more familiarly known as Tension Headaches.
They occur when muscles in the head, neck, upper back or face are tensed for a long period of time. A tension headache may be set off by physical stress, such as hunching over a desk for several hours or even from clenching your teeth as you sleep. Another cause may be mental stress caused by boredom or concentrating too long without a break.
Emotional stress caused by depression or anxiety may also cause a tension headache.
Tension Headache pain is often described as a dull ache or band tightening around the head. The pain occurs on both sides of the head, and sometimes is associated with achy shoulders and neck.
Other types of headaches include:
Vascular Headaches. These headaches are linked to changes in blood flow to the brain. The two major types of vascular headaches are Migraine Headaches and Cluster Headaches.
- Migraine Headaches can be triggered by hormonal changes that occur during menstruation, pregnancy or menopause, or when using oral contraceptives. Other possible triggers include physical or emotional stress, certain foods, changes in the weather, and too much or too little sleep. A Migraine can cause moderate to severe pain usually on one side of the head, nausea/vomiting, tingling in the lips and face, sensitivity to light, and dizziness.
- Drinking alcohol, caffeine in moderate to heavy amounts, or smoking heavily can trigger Cluster Headaches. A Cluster Headache can cause dropping of the eyelid and a runny nose on the affected side. Cluster headaches typically strike middle-aged men and they are more common in the spring and fall.
Headaches can be warning signs. Injury or disease causes about 2% of headaches. Tests can show which ones are serious. You should be evaluated by medical personnel if you experience any of the following: sudden severe pain, fever, stiff neck, visual disturbances, confusion, loss of consciousness, numbness, waking up during the night, a blow to the head or persistence despite treatment.
Methods for treating headaches include analgesics (pain medications), relaxation exercised, professional counseling, diet changes, biofeedback and massage. Your health care provider may recommend other treatments.
Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) may occur just before or at the beginning of menstruation and continue for one to two days. Cramps are often caused by hormonal changes.
Weight gain, breast tenderness, irritability, headache, bloating, and depression are other symptoms that women may experience before or during menstruation.
- Provide heat to the abdominal area or lower back with a heating pad or warm bath.
- Eat food high in Vitamin B6 (bananas, tuna, broccoli, lentils) and Vitamin C (citrus fruits, green peppers), and Magnesium (whole grains, soybeans, spinach, fish).
- Certain medications will relieve cramping, such as Ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin or Nuprin.
If you are allergic to aspirin or Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be used.
Seek medical attention if:
- Pain is more severe than usual.
- Bleeding is unusually heavy as compared to normal flow.
- Menstruation is absent when it would regularly occur.
Poison Ivy is an allergic contact dermatitis caused by exposure to the resin of the poison ivy plant. The allergen if frequently transferred from the hands and other contaminated items to other parts of the body where the rash then appears. The fluid in the blisters will not spread the eruptions elsewhere on the body or to other people. Only the oily resin can cause "spread" if it is not washed from the body, clothing or pets. Poison ivy can produce an allergic reaction in more than 70% of the population.
The primary symptom of contact dermatitis is itching. A typical reaction will consist of itching, redness and irregular or linear groups of blisters. In more severe reactions swelling may also occur. The reaction time after the very first exposure may be 5-21 days, while the reaction time after subsequent re-exposure may be 6-48 hours. With massive exposure, symptoms may appear in 6-12 hours.
Symptoms may last 2-3 weeks.
Avoidance of contact or wearing protective clothing are the only really effective preventive measures.
Measures useful in modifying or limiting the contamination include:
- Wash the entire body thoroughly as soon as possible after exposure to the poison ivy plant, including under fingernails.
- Wash shoes, shoelaces, hats, glasses, belts, jewelry and other items of clothing or apparel that may have been in contact with the plant.
- Bath animals if they have been in the area of the plant. (they can transmit the poison ivy on their fur).
NOTE:Do not burn the poison ivy plant as the allergen can be transmitted through the air borne route.
- Use cool Compresses.
- Take tepid to cool showers.
- Use soothing lotions, such as calamine or Calahist, which you should pat on (do not rub on). Apply lotion when the body is completely dry. Apply lotion in layers.
- Use an Antihistamine, such as Benadryl (follow package instructions).
Moderate to severe cases: your practitioner will determine treatment.
You may need further evaluation if:
- The skin reaction is on the genital area, or near the eyes.
- You develop a fever over 100.
- The rash or blisters seem to be infected.
- The prescribed program and medication do not bring relief.
Sprains, Strains, & Pains
A muscle strain can be defined as a muscle injury produced by over stretching of tendons or overuse of muscles which results in pain.
A joint may sustain minor injury where the nature of the trauma was mild, resulting in minimal stretching of the involved ligaments and contusions (bruising) of the surrounding tissue.
Usually symptoms follow a recent increase in physical activity, such as lifting or engaging in an infrequently played sport. Usually there is no (or minimal) discomfort during or immediately after activity. Within the next 12 to 36 hours, however, pain develops and is associated with a feeling of muscular stiffness.
Restricting activity that hurts the area involved provides time for it to heal. Gentle massage and stretching/warm-up exercises help recondition and strengthen the area.
Use of an ice pack alone applied 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off is most effective.
An easy to remember self-care measures for a sprain/strain is the word RICE:
R - rest and restrict activity to the injured area.
I - use ice as described above
C - compression: use an ace bandage wrapped snugly, but not tightly.
E - elevate the injured area above the level of your heart, as often as possible.
Analgesics (pain relievers) used as directed also assist in providing comfort. Tylenol and Advil (Ibuprofen) are effective over-the-counter medications.
If at any time you suspect a broken bone, an X-ray may be ordered by your medical practitioner. This is the only way to be sure a fracture does not exist.
If you feel there is no improvement after several days, seek prompt medical attention.
Upper Respiratory Problems
Common cold, Sore throat, & Runny nose
The "common cold" is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, which includes symptoms such as muscle aches, fatigue, sore throat, stuffed/runny nose, cough, fullness in ears; and possible fever.
The virus is self-limiting, which means it will last approximately 7-10 days and then clear up. Antibiotics have been overused for treatment of viral infections and can lead to development of drug resistance.
Because it is a viral infection there is no medication that will cure it, but there is help to alleviate the annoying symptoms and decrease susceptibility.
The virus is airborne and passed on by sneezing, coughing, etc. It is transmitted by direct contact, via shaking hands, etc.
Break the chain of transmission by:
- Using only tissues (no handkerchiefs)
- Frequent hand washing
- Keeping hands away from nose and eyes
- Avoid crowded areas and cigarette smoke
You can keep your personal resistance high by eating a good diet, getting plenty of rest and exercising regularly.
Certain medications and measures are appropriate for treating the symptoms of your illness, however TAKE CARE to read labels and avoid double dosing of medications when combination products are used.
- Use throat lozenges, Chloraseptic spray, etc.
- Gargle every 3-4 hours with warm salt water.
- Use Sudafed (will not produce drowsiness, will alleviate stuffy nose and fullness in ears)
- Avoid antihistamines unless allergy symptoms are present.
- May use nasal decongestant sprays (Afrin, Neo-synephrine) (3-day use only).
Rest and Fluids
- Get plenty of rest
- Eat properly
- Increase fluid intake (2-3 quarts)
- Caffeine-free beverages, juices, water, etc.
If the following symptoms occur, consult a health care provider:
- Fever over 101 that persist for 3 days
- Chest pain or difficulty breathing
- Facial pain over forehead or cheeks
- Ear pain – not just popping or clogged
- Cough with greenish or blood-tinged mucous
- A sore throat with white patches on it; or one that makes it difficult to swallow liquids
- Any cold that lasts more than 2 weeks
The starter pack contains a 3-day supply of over-the-counter medications that are available at any pharmacy. Follow directions on package.
A wound is a break in the tissues of the body. Injuries like cuts and scrapes are called open wounds while others, like deep bruises, are called closed wounds.
Abrasions are wounds generally caused by scraping of the skins’ outer layers. Bleeding is usually minimal. If there is foreign matter (such as dirt, glass or gravel) imbedded in the skin, it must be properly removed to avoid permanent scaring or infection.
Blisters are collections of fluid below or within the epidermis layer of the skin. DO NOT PUNCTURE BLISTERS! If a blister opens, treat it like an open wound. Some common causes of blisters are sunburn, friction from shoes, and burns.
The basics of wound care for small scratches, cuts and abrasions can be divided into 3 steps:
- Cleansing the wound
- Cleansing the skin around the wound
- Protecting the wound from further contamination
Wash your hands before cleansing your wound to avoid the spread of bacteria (germs) into a new wound. To cleanse your wound, gently scrub with a mild soap and water.
Ointments such as Bacitracin and Neomycin are used to aid the healing of small, minor wounds but they do not speed the healing process. Ointments should be applied sparingly in a think layer after cleansing approximately three times a day.
A covering of sterile, "breathable" bandage material is ideal for new wounds. This will help to keep further bacteria out of the wound and prevent infection. It is important that wounds be kept clean and dry. Change bandages frequently, cleansing the wound in between and allowing the wound exposure to air. This will promote healing. If the bandage becomes wet, apply a clean bandage at once.
It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a wound infection. You should watch for:
- Redness, unusual tenderness
- Red streaks on the skin surrounding the wound
- Yellowish discharge from the wound
If any of these symptoms should appear, seek medical attention at once.
Keep the following items on hand to care for an uncomplicated wound:
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Bacitracin/Neomycin ointment
- Band-aids or other wound dressing materials
- Gauze pads/cotton balls
If there is ever any concern that your wound may require stitches, consult a medical provider.
Normal body temperature varies by person, age, activity, and time of day. The normal body temperature is 98.6oF (37oC). The normal range of body temperature is 97oF – 99.8oF. Temperatures 100oF and over are considered fevers.
Fever is not an illness. It is an important part of the body’s defense against infections. A fever activated the body’s immune system to make more white blood cells, antibodies and other infection-fighting agents.
•Viral and bacterial infections
•Colds or flu-like illnesses
•Sore throat and strep throat
•Viral gastroenteritis or bacterial gastroenteritis
•Urinary tract infections
•Upper respiratory infections (such as tonsillitis, pharyngitis or laryngitis)
•AIDS and HIV infections
For fevers of 100oF drink increased amounts of fluids and rest. If you are uncomfortable you may take medication to reduce the fever.
Guidelines in taking medicine:
•Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin) help reduce fever.
•Take acetaminophen every 4-6 hours. It works by turning down the brain’s thermostat. Take ibuprofen every 6-8 hours. Like aspirin, it helps fight inflammation at the source of the fever.
•Aspirin is very effective in treating fever in adults. It must be taken with food. Call the health care provider office if
•Fever last longer than 48 to 72 hours
•Fever is over 102
•There are worrisome symptoms that suggest an illness may need to be treated, such as sore throat, earache or cough.