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Is it a cold or flu? Ask NHS Direct's New Symptom Checker

Is it a cold or flu? Ask NHS Direct's New Symptom Checker

Do you have a cold? Is it flu? Or are your symptoms serious enough that you should seek urgent medical attention?

Over the next couple of months many of us will unfortunately be struck down with either a bad cold or a dose of flu. NHS Direct has already experienced a 206% rise in callers (from September 8 to December 7) ringing about colds, flu, coughs and fever.

To help during this grim period, NHS Direct has launched a new symptom checker on its website to help sufferers check their symptoms, which can include anything from a sore throat to a cough, sinusitis (a blocked nose causing facial or forehead pain) or earache.

Recent NICE guidelines for respiratory tract infections set out how long anyone should expect symptoms to last including: cough, three weeks; sore throat, one week; sinusitis, two and a half weeks; earache, four days and common cold, one and a half weeks.

The new tool has taken the protocols used by NHS Direct call centre nurses to assess patients’ symptoms over the telephone and adapted them for the website for the general public to use to assess their own aches and pains.

Depending on the information provided by the user, the system may also offer a call back from NHS Direct with the facility to arrange a specific call back from a nurse advisor at a time to suit. Additional information and external links are provided on the website to support the user with more detailed advice about the use of medicines to treat pain and fever associated with colds and flu.

“A wide range of over-the-counter medicines containing paracetamol and ibuprofen, plus various cough mixtures and throat pastilles, is available from pharmacies,” says Anne Joshua, associate director of pharmacy at NHS Direct. “It is best to stick to one product that suits your needs and to avoid taking preparations with similar ingredients resulting in inadvertent double dosing. It is important to discuss with your pharmacist which cold relief is best for you or your family or to check with NHS Direct via the call back service.”

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