Winter & Summer health
Hay fever is a common allergic condition that affects up to one in five people at some point in their life.
Symptoms of hay fever include:
a runny nose
You'll experience hay fever symptoms if you have an allergic reaction to pollen.
Pollen is a fine powder released by plants as part of their reproductive cycle. It contains proteins that can cause the nose, eyes, throat and sinuses (small air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead) to become swollen, irritated and inflamed.
You can have an allergy to:
tree pollen, released during spring
grass pollen, released during the end of spring and beginning of summer
weed pollen, released late autumn
Read more about the causes of hay fever.
Many people find their symptoms improve as they get older. Around half of people report some improvement in symptoms after several years. Symptoms disappear completely in around 10-20% of people.
Hay fever treatment
There's currently no cure for hay fever, but most people are able to relieve symptoms with treatment, at least to a certain extent.
The most effective way to control hay fever would be to avoid exposure to pollen. However, it's very difficult to avoid pollen, particularly during the summer months when you want to spend more time outdoors.
Treatment options for hay fever include antihistamines, which can help to prevent an allergic reaction from occurring and corticosteroids (steroids), which help to reduce inflammation and swelling.
Hay fever can often be controlled using over-the-counter medication from your pharmacist. However, if your symptoms are more troublesome it’s worth speaking to your GP, as you may require prescription medication.
For severe and persistent hay fever, there's also a type of treatment called immunotherapy. It involves being exposed to small amounts of pollen over time, to build resistance to its allergic effects. However, this can take many months or even years to work.
Read more about treating hay fever.
Hay fever is one of the most common allergic conditions, with an estimated 13 million people affected in the UK.
You can get hay fever at any age, although it usually begins in childhood or during the teenage years. It's more common in boys than girls. In adults, men and women are equally affected.
You're more likely to develop hay fever if you have a family history of allergies, particularly asthma or eczema.
It's sometimes possible to prevent the symptoms of hay fever by taking some basic precautions, such as:
wearing wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting in your eyes when you're outdoors
taking a shower and changing your clothes after being outdoors to remove the pollen on your body
staying indoors when the pollen count is high (over 50 grains per cubic metre of air)
applying a small amount of Vaseline (petroleum gel) to the nasal openings to trap pollen grains
Read more about preventing hay fever.
Even though hay fever doesn't pose a serious threat to health, it can have a negative impact on a person's quality of life. People with very severe hay fever often find that it can disrupt their productivity at school or work.
Inflammation of the sinuses (sinusitis) is another common complication of hay fever. Children may also develop a middle ear infection (otitis media) as a result of hay fever.
Read more about the complications of hay fever.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis is the medical term for hay fever. Rhinitis means inflammation of the inside of the nose.
Some people also experience hay fever-like symptoms when exposed to other allergy-triggering substances, such as dust mites and animal fur.
Read more about other types of allergic rhinitis.
The pollen count is a measurement of the amount of pollen in the air. The higher the count, the more severe symptoms of hay fever can become (depending on the specific type of pollen you're allergic to).
The Met Office provides a pollen forecast. If the pollen count is high, you can take preventative measures, such as taking antihistamine medication, before leaving the house.
Sunscreen and sun safety
Advice for adults and children on sunscreen and sun safety in the UK and abroad.
Sunburn increases your risk of skin cancer. Sunburn doesn't just happen on holiday – you can burn in the UK, even when it's cloudy.
There's no safe or healthy way to get a tan. A tan doesn't protect your skin from the sun's harmful effects.
Aim to strike a balance between protecting yourself from the sun and getting enough vitamin D from sunlight.
Sun safety tips
Spend time in the shade when the sun is strongest. In the UK, this is between 11am and 3pm from March to October.
Make sure you:
- spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm
- make sure you never burn
- cover up with suitable clothing and sunglasses
- take extra care with children
- use at least factor 15 sunscreen
What factor sunscreen (SPF) should I use?
Don't rely on sunscreen alone to protect yourself from the sun. Wear suitable clothing and spend time in the shade when the sun's at its hottest.
When buying sunscreen, the label should have:
- a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 to protect against UVB
- at least four-star UVA protection
UVA protection can also be indicated by the letters "UVA" in a circle, which indicates that it meets the EU standard.
Make sure the sunscreen is not past its expiry date. Most sunscreens have a shelf life of two to three years.
Don't spend any longer in the sun than you would without sunscreen.
What are the SPF and star rating?
The sun protection factor, or SPF, is a measure of the amount of ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) protection.
SPFs are rated on a scale of 2-50+ based on the level of protection they offer, with 50+ offering the strongest form of UVB protection.
The star rating measures the amount of ultraviolet A radiation (UVA) protection. You should see a star rating of up to five stars on UK sunscreens. The higher the star rating, the better.
The letters "UVA" inside a circle is a European marking. This means the UVA protection is at least one third of the SPF value and meets EU recommendations.
Sunscreens that offer both UVA and UVB protection are sometimes called broad spectrum.
How to apply sunscreen
Most people don't apply enough sunscreen. As a guide, adults should aim to apply around:
- two teaspoons of sunscreen if you're just covering your head, arms and neck
- two tablespoons if you're covering your entire body while wearing a swimming costume
If sunscreen is applied too thinly, the amount of protection it gives is reduced. If you're worried you might not be applying enough SPF15, you could use a stronger SPF30 sunscreen.
If you plan to be out in the sun long enough to risk burning, sunscreen needs to be applied twice:
- 30 minutes before going out
- just before going out
Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed skin, including the face, neck and ears – and head if you have thinning or no hair – but a wide-brimmed hat is better.
Sunscreen needs to be reapplied liberally and frequently, and according to the manufacturer's instructions.
This includes applying it straight after you've been in water – even if it's "water resistant" – and after towel drying, sweating, or when it may have rubbed off.
Swimming and sunscreen
Water washes sunscreen off, and the cooling effect of the water can make you think you're not getting burned. Water also reflects ultraviolet (UV) rays, increasing your exposure.
Water-resistant sunscreen is needed if sweating or contact with water is likely.
Sunscreen should be reapplied straight after you've been in water – even if it's "water resistant" – and after towel drying, sweating, or when it may have rubbed off.
Children and sun protection
Take extra care to protect babies and children. Their skin is much more sensitive than adult skin, and damage caused by repeated exposure to sunlight could lead to skin cancer developing in later life.
Children aged under six months should be kept out of direct strong sunlight.
From March to October in the UK, children should:
- cover up with suitable clothing
- spend time in the shade – particularly from 11am to 3pm
- wear at least SPF15 sunscreen
Apply sunscreen to areas not protected by clothing, such as the face, ears, feet, and backs of hands. Get more sun safety advice for children.
To ensure they get enough vitamin D, all children under five are advised to take vitamin D supplements.
Protect your eyes in the sun
A day at the beach without proper eye protection can cause a temporary but painful burn to the surface of the eye, similar to sunburn.
Reflected sunlight from snow, sand, concrete and water, and artificial light from sunbeds, is particularly dangerous.
Avoid looking directly at the sun, as this can cause permanent eye damage.
Clothing and sunglasses
Wear clothes and sunglasses that provide sun protection, such as:
- a wide-brimmed hat that shades the face, neck and ears
- a long-sleeved top
- trousers or long skirts in close-weave fabrics that don't allow sunlight through
- sunglasses with wraparound lenses or wide arms with the CE Mark and European Standard EN 1836:2005
How to deal with sunburn
Sponge sore skin with cool water, then apply soothing aftersun or calamine lotion.
Painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, will ease the pain by helping to reduce inflammation caused by sunburn.
Seek medical help if you feel unwell or the skin swells badly or blisters. Stay out of the sun until all signs of redness have gone.
Read more about treating sunburn.
Get tips on preventing and treating heat exhaustion in hot weather.
Who should take extra care in the sun?
You should take extra care in the sun if you:
- have pale, white or light brown skin
- have freckles or red or fair hair
- tend to burn rather than tan
- have many moles
- have skin problems relating to a medical condition
- are only exposed to intense sun occasionally – for example, while on holiday
- are in a hot country where the sun is particularly intense
- have a family history of skin cancer
People who spend a lot of time in the sun, whether it's for work or play, are at increased risk of skin cancer if they don't take the right precautions.
People with naturally brown or black skin are less likely to get skin cancer, as darker skin has some protection against UV rays. But skin cancer can still occur.
The Cancer Research UK website has a tool where you can find out your skin type to see when you might be at risk of burning.
Protect your moles
If you have lots of moles or freckles, your risk of getting skin cancer is higher than average, so take extra care.
Avoid getting caught out by sunburn. Use shade, clothing and a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 to protect yourself.
Keep an eye out for changes to your skin. Changes to check for include:
- a new mole, growth or lump
- any moles, freckles or patches of skin that change in size, shape or colour
Report these to your doctor as soon as possible. Skin cancer is much easier to treat if it's found early.
Use the mole self-assessment tool to see whether you could have a cancerous mole.
The British Association of Dermatologists advises that people shouldn't use sunbeds or sunlamps.
Sunbeds and lamps can be more dangerous than natural sunlight because they use a concentrated source of UV radiation.
Health risks linked to sunbeds and other UV tanning equipment include:
- skin cancer
- premature skin ageing
- sunburnt skin
- eye irritation
It's illegal for people under the age of 18 to use sunbeds, including in tanning salons, beauty salons, leisure centres, gyms, and hotels.
Find out more by reading Are sunbeds safe?
Hot weather: how to cope
Most of us welcome hot weather, but when it's too hot for too long there are health risks. If a heatwave hits this summer, make sure the hot weather doesn't harm you or anyone you know.
Why is a heatwave a problem?
The main risks posed by a heatwave are:
Who is most at risk?
A heatwave can affect anyone, but the most vulnerable people are:
- older people, especially those over 75
- babies and young children
- people with a serious chronic condition, especially heart or breathing problems
- people with mobility problems – for example, people with Parkinson's disease or who have had a stroke
- people with serious mental health problems
- people on certain medications, including those that affect sweating and temperature control
- people who misuse alcohol or drugs
- people who are physically active – for example, labourers or those doing sports
Level one alert: be prepared
The Meteorological Office has a warning system that issues alerts if a heatwave is likely. Level one is the minimum alert and is in place from June 1 until September 15 (which is the period that heatwave alerts are likely to be raised).
Although you don't have to do anything during a level one alert, it is advisable to be aware of what to do if the alert level is raised. Knowing how to keep cool during long periods of hot weather can help save lives.
Public Health England (PHE) has advice on how to stay safe during a heatwave (PDF, 417kb).
Level two alert: heatwave is forecast
The Met Office raises an alert if there is a high chance that an average temperature of 30C by day and 15C overnight will occur over the next two to three days. These temperatures can have a significant effect on people's health if they last for at least two days and the night in between.
Although you don't need to take any immediate action, follow these steps in preparation:
- Stay tuned to the weather forecast on the radio, TV or social media, or the Met Office.
- If you're planning to travel, check the forecast at your destination.
- Learn how to keep cool at home with the beat the heat checklist (PDF, 193kb).
Level three alert: when a heatwave is happening
This alert is triggered when the Met Office confirms there will be heatwave temperatures in one or more regions.
Follow the instructions for a level two alert. The following tips apply to everybody when it comes to keeping cool and comfortable, and reducing health risks.
Tips for coping in hot weather
- Shut windows and pull down the shades when it is hotter outside. You can open the windows for ventilation when it is cooler.
- Avoid the heat: stay out of the sun and don't go out between 11am and 3pm (the hottest part of the day) if you're vulnerable to the effects of heat.
- Keep rooms cool by using shades or reflective material outside the windows. If this isn't possible, use light-coloured curtains and keep them closed (metallic blinds and dark curtains can make the room hotter).
- Have cool baths or showers, and splash yourself with cool water.
- Drink cold drinks regularly, such as water and diluted fruit juice. Avoid excess alcohol, caffeine (tea, coffee and cola) or drinks high in sugar.
- Listen to alerts on the radio, TV and social media about keeping cool.
- Plan ahead to make sure you have enough supplies, such as food, water and any medications you need.
- Identify the coolest room in the house so you know where to go to keep cool.
- Wear loose, cool clothing, and a hat and sunglasses if you go outdoors.
- Check up on friends, relatives and neighbours who may be less able to look after themselves.
If you're worried about yourself or a vulnerable neighbour, friend or relative, you can contact the Peterborough City Council's environmental health office. Environmental health workers can visit a home to inspect it for hazards to health, including excess heat. Call 01733 747474.
Level four alert: severe heatwave
This is the highest heatwave alert in Britain. It is raised when a heatwave is severe and/or prolonged, and is an emergency situation.
At level four, the health risks from a heatwave can affect fit and healthy people, and not just those in high-risk groups. These groups include the elderly, the very young and people with chronic medical conditions.
Follow the information given above for a level three alert. Check that anyone around you who is in a high-risk group is coping with the heat.
How do I know if someone needs help?
Seek help from a GP or contact NHS 111 if someone is feeling unwell and shows symptoms of:
- chest pain
- intense thirst
- cramps which get worse or don't go away
Get the person somewhere cool to rest. Give them plenty of fluids to drink.
Find out about the symptoms of heat exhaustion.
Keep warm this winter
Cold wintry conditions are associated with an increase in injuries and illnesses such as heart attacks, strokes and pneumonia. Combined with low levels of sunlight after the clocks go back means that many of us feel in poor health in cold weather.
However if you are older, under the age of five or have a long term health condition such as heart, lung and kidney problems you are particularly vulnerable to becoming unwell.
Having a flu jab is a way of avoiding getting flu. Keeping warm is also an important way can also help your health being affected during the winter months. There are some top tips for keeping warm:
- At home this can be done by making sure the main living room is at least 18 degrees, having regular hot drinks, by using a hot water bottle or an electric blanket (but not at the same time)
- Heat your home to at least 18 (65) degrees. You may prefer your main living room to be slightly warmer. Keep your bedroom window closed on a winter’s night.
- When you are indoors try not to sit still for more than hour. Get up stretch your legs and make yourself a warm drink.
- Eating well is important. Have regular meals that will keep your energy levels up. Hot meals and drinks help keep you warm, so eat at least one hot meal a day.
- Wear lots of thin layers, clothes made from cotton, wool or fleecy fibres are particularly good and maintain body heat. Start with thermal underwear, warm tights or socks. If you’re sitting down, a shawl or blanket will provide a lot of warmth. Try to keep your feet up, as the air is cooler at ground level.
- Wear warm clothes in bed. When very cold, wear thermal underwear, bed socks and even a hat – a lot of heat is lost through your head.
- Use a hot-water bottle, wheat bag or an electric blanket to warm the bed, but never use a hot-water bottle and an electric blanket together as this can be dangerous. Check whether your electric blanket can be kept on all night or whether it’s only designed to warm the bed before you get in. It is best to get it checked every three years by an expert. If you have continence difficulties, talk to your doctor before using one.
- In cold weather it is best to avoid going out. If you do however be sure to wear plenty of clothes to keep muscles warm. Wear footwear with plenty of tread to give a better grip and with a warm lining or wear thermal socks. If you use a walking stick make sure the rubber that has contact with the ground has a good tread.
- Check local news and weather forecasts for advice when cold weather is predicted.
- Check on older neighbours and relatives to make sure they are safe and well. Make sure they are warm enough, especially at night, and have stocks of food and medicines so they do not have to go out in cold weather. If you are worried about an older person contact a family member, the local council or ring Age UK.
- Make sure your home keeps the heat in. This will also reduce energy demand and your fuel bills. Simple measures such as fitting draught proofing around gaps in windows and doors or making sure that your loft is insulated. Ensuring that you boiler is efficient and safe is also important. There is help available for example the Energy Saving Advice Service (ESAS) is a government funded telephone advice service that gives advice and signposting to support. (tel 0300 123 1234 9am to 8 pm Monday to Friday).
You might be eligible for financial support to help keep your house warm, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau can provide information on benefits, heating, grants and debt. www.citizensadvice.org.uk
For local support see Useful Contacts
Local Energy Advice Programme - LEAP
Peterborough City Council offers this free energy and money saving service to local residents who are especially vulnerable. Advisors visit your home and can install simple energy saving measures, help you set up your home to be energy efficient or refer to other sources of support. Tel 0800 060 7567 or www.applyforleap.org.uk (8.45am to 5.30pm Mondays to Fridays)
City Energy Tariff helping to tackle fuel poverty
4.5 million households across the UK suffer from fuel poverty and cannot afford to heat their homes to the recommended guideline temperatures. Peterborough City Council and along with recognising increasing energy prices by the ‘Big Six’ energy companies, the local authority partnered with award-winning OVO Energy to launch Peterborough Energy, which provides a competitive dual-fuel tariff to residents.
So far, more than 8,000 residents have switched to Peterborough Energy and saved an average of £248 per year on their energy bills. Switching your energy supply to Peterborough Energy, as well as reducing expenditure by taking simple steps such as draught-proofing doors and turning appliances off standby, will help residents avoid fuel poverty throughout the colder months. See how much you could save by visiting www.peterboroughenergy.co.uk
Cold winters bad for your health
If you are an older person, a young child or have an ongoing health problem, cold winter weather can be bad for your health. Getting too cold can raise your risk of chest infections, and can also raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of heart attack or stroke. There are simple things you can do to reduce these risks and stay warm and well:
- Check that your boiler is working. Before a cold snap hits, it’s worth getting checking to see if your boiler is fully working.
- Heat your home to at least 18°C (65°F).You might prefer your main living room to be slightly warmer. Keep your bedroom window closed on winter nights.Because breathing cold air can be bad for your health as it increases the risk of chest infections.
- Eat well. Food is a vital source of energy, which helps to keep your body warm.
- Keep active when you’re indoors. Try not to sit still for more than an hour or so.
- Wear several layers of light clothes. Because they trap warm air better than one bulky layer.
- Look after yourself. If you go out in the cold weather wear extra clothes. Don’t go out if it is too cold.
- Make sure you’re receiving all the help that you’re entitled to. Learn how to make your home more energy efficient, improve your heating and keep up with your energy bills at www.gov.uk/phe/keep-warm
More advice on keeping warm
Find out about cold weather payment
Find out about winter fuel payment
How to cope in very cold weather
Keep colds and flu at bay
The flu vaccine can prevent you from catching flu - so if you are over 65, are pregnant, or have a long term condition that means you’re entitled to a free NHS flu vaccine, then it’s worth making sure you take this up through your GP surgery or some local pharmacies.
Apart from that, the best way to protect yourself from bad colds and flu is to have a healthy lifestyle - eating a healthy diet, taking regular exercise and drinking plenty of warm drinks in the winter months. Cold temperatures won’t give you a cold on their own - but getting cold does allow the viruses which cause the common cold to multiply more quickly.
Colds and flu share some of the same symptoms (cough, sore throat), but are caused by different viruses. Flu can be much more serious than a cold.
If you're generally fit and healthy, you can usually manage the symptoms of a cold or flu yourself without seeing a doctor. Look after yourself by resting, drinking non-alcoholic fluids to avoid dehydration and avoiding strenuous activity. Painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can relieve aches and pains.
There are around 200 viruses that cause colds and just three that cause flu. There are many strains of these flu viruses, and the vaccine changes every year to protect against the most common ones.
Colds cause more nasal problems, such as blocked nose, than flu. Fever, fatigue and muscle aches are more likely and more severe with flu.
Symptoms of a cold include:
- runny nose – beginning with clear mucus that develops into thicker, green mucus as the cold progresses
- blocked nose
- sore throat
People with a cold may also suffer with a mild fever, earache, tiredness and headache. Symptoms develop over one or two days and gradually get better after a few days. Some colds can last for up to two weeks.
According to the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff, a cold is most contagious during the early stages, when the person has a runny nose and sore throat.
Flu usually comes on much more quickly than a cold, and symptoms include:
- sudden fever of 38-40C (100-104F)
- muscle aches and pains
- feeling exhausted and needing to lie down
- a dry, chesty cough
A person with flu may also have a runny nose and be prone to sneezing, but these are not usually the defining symptoms of flu.
Flu symptoms appear one to three days after infection and most people recover within a week, although you may feel tired for longer. A severe cold can also cause muscle aches and fever, so it can be hard to tell the difference.
Whether it’s a cold or flu, get medical help if you either:
- have a chronic condition (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease)
- have a very high fever as well as an unusually severe headache or abdominal or chest pain
People more at risk
Some people need to take extra care as they're more at risk of serious chest complications, such as pneumonia andbronchitis. People over 65 are more at risk of complications. People under 65, including children, are more at risk of complications if they have:
Everyone in an at-risk group is eligible for a free flu vaccination, which is the best protection against the virus. Find outwho is offered the flu jab, including all pregnant women.
Stop the viruses spreading
Cold and flu viruses are spread by droplets that are coughed or sneezed out by an infected person. Other people can breathe in these droplets or transfer the droplets to their eyes or nose, via their fingers.
Protect yourself and others against colds and flu by:
- coughing or sneezing into a tissue
- throwing a used tissue away as soon as possible
- washing your hands as soon as possible
- having a flu jab every year if you're in an at-risk group
Colds and flu viruses can also be passed on via infected droplets on objects or surfaces, such as door handles. You can help to prevent passing on or getting colds and flu by washing your hands regularly, and avoiding touching your eyes and nose.
Financial help to heat your home
There are grants, benefits and sources of advice available to make your home more energy efficient, improve your heating or help with bills. It’s worthwhile claiming what you are entitled to.
Local Energy Advice Programme - LEAP
Peterborough City Council offers this free energy and money saving service to local residents who are especially vulnerable. Advisors visit your home and can install simple energy saving measures, help you set up your home to be energy efficient or refer to other sources of support. Tel 0800 060 7567 or www.applyforleap.org.uk (8.45am to 5.30pm Momdays to Fridays)
Winter Fuel Payment
This is a tax-free benefit to help pay for heating during winter. You could be eligible if you have reached the qualifying age and you normally live in Great Britain. This year you could get a Winter Fuel Payment of up to £200 for households with someone who qualifies aged up to 79, or up to £300 for someone aged 80 or over. The exact amount you’ll get depends on your circumstances during the qualifying week of 18-24 September 2017, such as your age, whether you live alone and whether you’re getting Pension Credit, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance. Visit www.gov.uk/winter-fuel-payment for further details.
Cold Weather Payment
Cold Weather Payments are made during periods of very cold weather to help people to pay for extra heating costs. To get a Cold Weather Payment, the average temperature where you live must be recorded as, or forecast to be, 0°C or below for seven days in a row. Visit www.gov.uk/cold-weather-payment for further details.
Energy Company Obligation – ECO
Under the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) the largest domestic energy suppliers are obligated to fund energy efficiency improvements in the homes of certain consumers. To meet their obligation, participating energy companies promote and subsidise the cost of installing improvements to make homes warmer, healthier and more energy efficient. To find out more, including what type of support you could be eligible for, contact the Energy Saving Advice Service on 0300 123 1234 (9am–8pm Mon–Fri). Visit www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/home-energy-efficiency for further details.
5 ways to stay healthy this winter
It may be cold outside, but winter needn't be the unhealthiest time of year for you and your family.
Here are five ways to make sure that, even when your body is telling you to hibernate, you can keep healthy and fit, no matter what the weather's like.
Banish winter tiredness
Many people feel tired and sluggish during winter. This is due to the lack of sunlight, which disrupts our sleep and waking cycles.
Try these tips:
- get outdoors in natural daylight as much as possible
- get a good night's sleep – go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
- destress with exercise or meditation – stress has been shown to make you feel tired
Read more ways to wipe out winter tiredness.
Eat more fruit and veg
When it's cold and dark outside, it can be tempting to fill up on unhealthy comfort food. However, it's important to ensure you still have a healthy diet and include five portions of fruit and veg a day.
If you find yourself craving a sugary treat, try a juicy clementine or satsuma instead.
Winter vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, swede and turnips can be roasted, mashed or made into soup for a comforting winter meal for the whole family. Explore varieties of fruit and veg that you may not normally eat.
Read more about how to get your 5 A Day.
Find recipes for 10 warming hot meals.
Drink more milk
You are more likely to get a cold in winter, so make sure your immune system is in tip-top condition.
Milk and dairy products such as cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais are great sources of:
- vitamins A and B12
- calcium, which helps keep our bones strong
Choose semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk – rather than full-fat – and low-fat plain yoghurts.
Read more about milk and dairy foods.
Read more about healthy eating.
Try new activities for the whole family
Don't use the cold winter months as an excuse to stay in and lounge around. Instead, get out with the whole family to try out a new activity –maybe ice skating, or taking a bracing winter walk on the beach or through the park.
Regular exercise helps control your weight, boost your immune system, and is a good way to break the tension that can build if the family is constantly cooped up inside the house.
Read more about different types of exercise for you and your family.
Have a hearty breakfast
Winter is the perfect season for porridge. Eating a warm bowlful on a cold morning isn't just a delicious way to start your day, it also helps boost your intake of starchy foods and fibre.
These foods give you energy and help you feel fuller for longer, stopping the temptation to snack mid-morning. Oats also contain lots of vital vitamins and minerals.
Make your porridge with semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk, or water, and don't add sugar or salt. Add a sliced banana, berries or other fruit for extra flavour and to help you hit your 5 A Day target.
Get more ideas for healthy breakfasts.
5 ways to wipe out winter tiredness
Do you find it harder to roll out of bed in winter when the temperature drops and the mornings are darker? If so, you're not alone. Many people feel tired and sluggish during winter.
Here are five energy-giving solutions that may help – and some conditions that can sometimes be the cause.
1. Let in some sunlight
As the days become shorter, your sleep and waking cycles may become disrupted. The lack of sunlight means your brain produces more of a hormone called melatonin, which makes you sleepy.
Open your blinds or curtains as soon as you get up to let more sunlight into your home, and get outdoors in natural daylight as much as possible. Try to take even just a brief lunchtime walk, and make sure your work and home environments are as light and airy as possible.
2. Get a good night's sleep
Getting enough undisturbed sleep is vital for fighting off winter tiredness.
It's tempting to go into hibernation mode when winter hits, but that sleepy feeling you get doesn't mean you should snooze for longer.
In fact, if you sleep too much, chances are you'll feel even more sluggish during the day. We don't actually require any more sleep in winter than we do in summer – aim for about eight hours of shut-eye a night, and try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
Make sure your bedroom helps you feel relaxed and sleepy: clear the clutter, have comfortable and warm bedding, and turn off the TV.
Read more about how to get a good night's sleep.
3. Get regular exercise
Exercise may be the last thing you want to do when you're feeling tired on dark winter evenings. But you might be surprised by how energetic you feel after getting involved in some kind of physical activity every day.
Exercise in the late afternoon may help to reduce early-evening fatigue and also improve your sleep. Try to reach the recommended goal of 150 minutes of exercise a week.
Winter is a great time to experiment with new and different kinds of activity.
For instance, if you're not used to doing exercise, book a session at one of the many open-air skating rinks that open during the winter. Skating is good all-round exercise for beginners and aficionados alike. There are also many dry ski slopes and indoor snow centres in the UK, which will offer courses for beginners.
If you're feeling like being more active, go for a game of badminton at your local sports centre, or a game of tennis or five-a-side football under the floodlights.
If you find it hard to get motivated to exercise in the colder, darker months, focus on the positives – you not only will feel more energetic but might also stave off winter weight gain.
Read lots more tips for exercising in winter.
4. Learn to relax
Are you feeling pressured to get everything done during the shorter daylight hours? If so, it may be contributing to your tiredness – stress has been shown to make you feel fatigued.
There's no quick-fire cure for stress, but there are some simple things you can do to help to reduce it. Many people find adding meditation, yoga, breathing exercises or mindfulness techniques into their day helps them to calm down and feel more relaxed.
Find out more by checking out these 10 ways to reduce stress.
5. Eat the right food
Being overweight or underweight can affect your energy levels and leave you feeling sleepy. So it's important to make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Once the summer ends, there's a temptation to ditch the salads and fill up on starchy foods such as pasta, potatoes and bread. However, you'll have more energy if you include plenty of fruit and vegetables in your comfort meals.
Winter vegetables – such as carrots, parsnips, swede and turnips – can be roasted, mashed or made into soup to provide a warming winter meal for the whole family. And classic stews and casseroles are great options if they're made with lean meat or pulses, and plenty of veg.
Here are 8 tips on healthy eating to inspire you.
You may find your sweet tooth going into overdrive in the winter months, but try to avoid foods containing lots of sugar. They may give you a rush of energy, but it's one that wears off quickly.
Here are some quick and easy ways to cut down on sugar, and more information about energy-giving foods.
You can also read more articles on how to beat tiredness and fatigue.
Do I have a health condition?
While it's normal for all of us to slow down over winter, there are some medical conditions that could be causing your tiredness.
Sometimes a lack of energy and enthusiasm (lethargy) can be a sign of winter depression. Known medically as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), it affects around 1 in 15 people, but it can be treated. Read more about how to recognise winter depression.
If your tiredness is severe and present all year round, you could have chronic fatigue syndrome.
Your tiredness might also be linked to a condition like anaemia, or a long-term infection that your body is trying to clear.
If your tiredness is stopping you from going about your normal life, or goes on for a long time, you should talk to your GP.
10 winter illnesses
Some health problems, such as asthma, sore throat and cold sores, are triggered or worsened by cold weather. Here's how to deal with cold weather ailments.
You can help prevent colds by washing your hands regularly. This destroys bugs that you may have picked up from touching surfaces used by other people, such as light switches and door handles.
Read this guide to how to wash your hands properly.
It's also important to keep the house and any household items such as cups, glasses and towels clean, especially if someone in your house is ill.
Top tip: If you get a cold, use disposable tissues instead of fabric handkerchiefs to avoid constantly reinfecting your own hands.
Read five surprising facts about the common cold.
Sore throats are common in winter and are almost always caused by viral infections.
There's some evidence that changes in temperature, such as going from a warm, centrally heated room to the icy outdoors, can also affect the throat.
Top tip: One quick and easy remedy for a sore throat is to gargle with warm salty water. Dissolve one teaspoon of salt in a glass of part-cooled boiled water.
It won't heal the infection, but it has anti-inflammatory properties and can have a soothing effect.
Cold air is a major trigger of asthma symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath. People with asthma should be especially careful in winter.
Top tip: Stay indoors on very cold, windy days. If you do go out, wear a scarf loosely over your nose and mouth.
Be extra vigilant about taking your regular medications, and keep reliever inhalers close by.
Get tips to avoid cold-related asthma attacks.
Also known as the winter vomiting bug, norovirus is an extremely infectious stomach bug. It can strike all year round, but is more common in winter and in places such as hotels, hospitals, nursing homes and schools.
The illness is unpleasant, but it's usually over within a few days.
Top tip: When people are ill with vomiting and diarrhoea, it's important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Young children and the elderly are especially at risk.
By drinking oral rehydration fluids (available from pharmacies), you can reduce the risk of dehydration.
Read about how to prevent food poisoning.
Many people with arthritis say their joints become more painful and stiff in winter, though it's not clear why this is the case. There's no evidence that changes in the weather cause joint damage.
Top tip: Many people get a little depressed during the winter months, and this can make them perceive pain more acutely. Everything feels worse, including medical conditions.
Daily exercise can boost a person's mental and physical state. Swimming is ideal as it's easy on the joints.
Find out how to get started with swimming for fitness.
Most of us recognise that cold sores are a sign that we're run down or under stress. While there's no cure for cold sores, you can reduce the chances of getting one by looking after yourself through winter.
Top tip: Every day, do things that make you feel less stressed, such as having a hot bath, going for a walk in the park, or watching one of your favourite films.
Read about the top 10 stress busters.
Heart attacks are more common in winter. This may be because cold weather increases blood pressure and puts more strain on the heart. Your heart also has to work harder to maintain body heat when it's cold.
Top tip: Stay warm in your home. Heat the main rooms you use to at least 18C and use a hot water bottle or electric blanket to keep warm in bed.
Wrap up warm when you go out and wear a hat, scarf and gloves.
More tips on how to keep warm and well.
Cold hands and feet
Raynaud's phenomenon is a common condition that makes your fingers and toes change colour and become very painful in cold weather.
Fingers can go white, then blue, then red, and throb and tingle. The small blood vessels of the hands and feet go into spasm, temporarily reducing blood flow to your hands and feet.
In severe cases, medication can help, but most people manage to live with their symptoms.
Top tip: Don't smoke or drink caffeine (both can worsen symptoms) and always wear warm gloves, socks and shoes when going out in cold weather.
Get advice on how to stop smoking.
Dry skin is a common condition and is often worse during the winter, when environmental humidity is low.
Moisturising is essential during winter. Contrary to popular belief, moisturising lotions and creams aren't absorbed by the skin. Instead, they act as a sealant to stop the skin's natural moisture evaporating away.
The best time to apply moisturiser is after a bath or shower while your skin is still moist, and again at bedtime.
Top tip: Have warm, rather than hot, showers. Water that is too hot makes skin feel more dry and itchy.
Flu can be a major killer of vulnerable people. People aged 65 and over, pregnant women and people with long-term health conditions, including diabetes, kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are particularly at risk.
The best way to prevent getting flu is to have the flu jab (or flu nasal spray for children aged 2 to 17). The flu vaccine gives good protection against flu and lasts for one year.
If you are over 65 or have a long term health condition, you are also eligible for the pneumococcal vaccine, which provides protection against pneumonia.
Top tip: Find out if you're at risk of getting flu by asking your GP, or read our article on who should have the flu jab. If you're in a high-risk group, see your GP to get the vaccination.
Protect yourself from flu
This article explains how you can help protect yourself and your children against flu this coming winter, and why it’s very important that people who are at increased risk from flu have their free flu vaccination every year.
What is ‘Flu?
- Influenza or flu is a respiratory illness associated with infection by influenza virus.
- It is infectious and common and spread by coughs and sneezes.
- It's not the same as the common cold. Flu is caused by a different group of viruses. Symptoms tend to be more severe and last for longer.
- Symptoms include sudden high temperature, headache and general aches and pains, aching muscles and joints, tiredness and sore throat. You can also lose your appetite, feel nauseous and have a cough.
- Flu occurs most often in winter and usually peaks between December and March in the northern hemisphere.
- For most healthy people influenza infection is just a nasty experience that is self-limiting and can be treated with medication that is available over the counter in pharmacies and supermarkets such as Paracetamol.
- Despite popular belief, the flu jab cannot give you flu as it doesn't contain the active virus needed to do this.
Why vaccinate against ’flu?
- Some people with serious long term conditions or with a compromised immune system are at much greater risk if they get flu and can suffer serious complications.
- The most common complications are bronchitis and pneumonia, which may require hospital admission and can be life threatening
- The high risk groups are not just the elderly, but include people of all ages who have serious conditions that put them at risk (see attached list for who is at risk) and also pregnant women in whom flu can lead to serious complications that can damage the health of both mother and baby.
Why vaccinate against ‘flu every year?
- The influenza virus is unstable and as a result new strains and variants are constantly emerging.
- The vaccine is changed each year to take account of the latest circulating strains.
- Our previous exposure to ‘flu may not have given us immunity to the latest strains and so the flu vaccine should be given each year.
Who should be vaccinated?
- All those 65 or over
- Those aged 6 months to 65 years who are in the high risk groups for vaccination
- Pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy
- Those in long stay residential or nursing homes
- Carers of elderly or disabled people
- Health and social care staff who are in direct contact with patients / clients
- All children aged 2, 3 and 4
- All children in school years 1,2 and 3
How is the vaccination given?
- For those over 16 years and from 6 months to 2 years, the vaccine is given in a single injection,
- For the younger age groups (2 to 16) a nasal vaccine has been introduced that has been used successfully for many years in the USA
- Children in clinical risk groups aged 2 to under 9 years who have not received ‘flu vaccine before should receive a second dose of vaccine at least four weeks later.
Where can you get your vaccination?
- The majority of people will be able to be vaccinated at their GP surgery – most practices have special clinic sessions during the Autumn - contact your GP practice for more information
- People who are carers may not be known in this capacity by their GP so should contact their surgery to request vaccination
- Front line health and social care staff should be immunised through their employer – employers have arrangements in place through their occupational health departments to make it easy for staff to access the vaccination
- Residential and nursing homes should have plans in place, usually with the local GP, to have residents vaccinated
- Pharmacies across the community have also been commissioned to give the flu vaccination to adults.
- Pregnant women in Peterborough have an additional option to have their flu vaccination given by their midwife.
When can you get your vaccination?
- The vaccine is available from October each year, and GP practices and occupational health departments are set up to vaccinate from then until December.
- As ‘flu usually circulates during the winter, the earlier you can have it the better
Groups recommended to receive flu vaccine
Flu vaccine should be offered to these eligible groups:
- All patients age 65 years and over
- Chronic respiratory disease
- Chronic heart disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic liver disease
- Chronic neurological disease
- Pregnant women
- People in long-stay residential or homes
- Health and Social Care staff
- All children aged 2, 3 and 4
- All children in school years 1, 2 and 3
Norovirus - treatment and prevention
Norovirus, which causes diarrhoea and vomiting, is one of the most common stomach bugs in the UK. It's also called the winter vomiting bug because it's more common in winter, although you can catch it at any time of the year.
Norovirus can be very unpleasant but it usually clears up by itself in a few days.
You can normally look after yourself or your child at home.
Try to avoid going to your GP, as norovirus can spread to others very easily. Call your GP or NHS 111 if you're concerned or need any advice.
Symptoms of norovirus
You're likely to have norovirus if you experience:
- suddenly feeling sick
- projectile vomiting
- watery diarrhoea
Some people also have a slight fever, headaches, painful stomach cramps and aching limbs.
The symptoms appear one to two days after you become infected and typically last for up to 2 or 3 days.
What to do if you have norovirus
If you experience sudden diarrhoea and vomiting, the best thing to do is to stay at home until you're feeling better. There's no cure for norovirus, so you have to let it run its course.
You don't usually need to get medical advice unless there's a risk of a more serious problem.
To help ease your own or your child’s symptoms:
- Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. You need to drink more than usual to replace the fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhoea – as well as water, adults could also try fruit juice and soup. Avoid giving fizzy drinks or fruit juice to children as it can make their diarrhoea worse. Babies should continue to feed as usual, either with breast milk or other milk feeds.
- Take paracetamol for any fever or aches and pains.
- Get plenty of rest.
- If you feel like eating, eat plain foods such as soup, rice, pasta and bread.
- Use special rehydration drinks made from sachets bought from pharmacies if you have signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouthor dark urine.
- Adults can take antidiarrhoeal and anti-emetic (anti-vomiting) medication – these aren't suitable for everyone though, so you should check the medicine leaflet or ask or your pharmacist or GP for advice before trying them.
Babies and young children, especially if they're less than a year old, have a greater risk of becoming dehydrated.
Read advice about looking after babies and children under 5 who have diarrhoea and vomiting.
Norovirus can spread very easily, so you should wash your handsregularly while you're ill and stay off work or school until at least 48 hours after the symptoms have cleared to reduce the risk of passing it on.
When to get medical advice
You don't normally need to see your GP if you think you or your child has norovirus, as there's no specific treatment for it.
Antibiotics won't help because it's caused by a virus.
Visiting your GP surgery with norovirus can put others at risk, so it's best to call your GP or NHS 111 if you're concerned or feel you need advice.
Get medical advice if:
- your baby or child has passed 6 or more watery stools in the past 24 hours, or has vomited 3 times or more in the past 24 hours
- your baby or child is less responsive, feverish, or has pale or mottled skin
- you or your child has symptoms of severe dehydration, such as persistent dizziness, only passing small amounts of urine or no urine at all, or reduced consciousness – babies and elderly people have a greater risk of becoming dehydrated
- you have bloody diarrhoea
- your symptoms haven't started to improve after a few days
- you or your child have a serious underlying condition, such as kidney disease, and have diarrhoea and vomiting
Your GP may suggest sending off a sample of your stool to a laboratory to confirm whether you have norovirus or another infection.
How is norovirus spread?
Norovirus spreads very easily in public places such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools.
You can catch it if small particles of vomit or poo from an infected person get into your mouth, such as through:
- close contact with someone with norovirus – they may breathe out small particles containing the virus that you could inhale
- touching contaminated surfaces or objects – the virus can survive outside the body for several days
- eating contaminated food – this can happen if an infected person doesn't wash their hands before handling food
A person with norovirus is most infectious from when their symptoms start until 48 hours after all their symptoms have passed, although they may also be infectious for a short time before and after this.
You can get norovirus more than once because the virus is always changing, so your body is unable to build up long-term resistance to it.
It's not always possible to avoid getting norovirus, but following the advice below can help stop the virus spreading.
- Stay off work or school until at least 48 hours after the symptoms have passed. You should also avoid visiting anyone in hospital during this time.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, particularly after using the toilet and before preparing food. Don't rely on alcohol hand gels, as they don't kill the virus.
- Disinfect any surfaces or objects that could be contaminated. It's best to use a bleach-based household cleaner.
- Wash any items of clothing or bedding that could have become contaminated separately on a hot wash to ensure the virus is killed.
- Don't share towels and flannels.
- Flush away any infected poo or vomit in the toilet and clean the surrounding area.
- Avoid eating raw, unwashed produce and only eat oysters from a reliable source, as oysters can carry norovirus.
Read more about preventing germs spreading.
Tread carefully this winter
Falls are the most common cause of accidental injury in older people and the most common cause of accidental death of people over the age of 75 in the UK. The costs of falls to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough health economy is more than £32 million per year.
A fall can cause distress, embarrassment, pain and loss of confidence and independence. Older people should remain active and independent but also need to take care when it is cold to reduce the risk of a fall.
Tips for staying steady, especially during winter are:
- Wear sturdy, well fitting suitable shoes outdoors
- Ensure steps and paths are clear before you walk. Be especially careful if you see wet pavements that could be iced over
- If you feel unsteady avoid going out when icy
- Make sure rubber tips on the end of sticks have a good tread – when they wear smooth
they can skid on wet surfaces and should be replaced.
- Wrap up warm outside and stay warm at home too as muscles work more efficiently when they are warm, helping to prevent falls. Set the living room temperature to 70f or 21c and the bedroom to 64f or 18c
- Make sure you have regular hot drinks during the day and get up and wallk around indoors for a few minutes regularly if you can do this safely
Flu vaccination for people with long term health conditions
Flu on top of any long term health condition can easily develop into something very serious, and you could end up in hospital.
The injected flu vaccine is offered free of charge on the NHS to anyone with a serious long-term health condition, including:
- chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma (which requires an inhaled or tablet steroid treatment, or has led to hospital admission in the past), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
- chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, motor neurone disease or multiple sclerosis (MS)
- problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
- a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medication such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- being seriously overweight (BMI of 40 or above)
This list of conditions isn't definitive. It's always an issue of clinical judgement. Your GP can assess you to take into account the risk of flu making any underlying illness you may have worse, as well as your risk of serious illness from flu itself.
The vaccine should always be offered in such cases, even if you are not technically in one of the risk groups above.
If you live with someone who has a weakened immune system, you may also be advised to have a flu vaccine. Speak to your GP or pharmacist about this.
Don't put it off – contact your GP or pharmacist to get the flu jab now. It's free because you need it.
Flu nasal spray for 2-3 year olds
The free flu nasal spray can protect your 2 or 3 year old*
Flu can be horrible for little children, and if they get it, they can easily spread it around the whole family.
Children with flu have the same symptoms as adults, including fever, chills, aching muscles, headache, a stuffy nose, a dry cough, and a sore throat lasting up to a week.
Some children develop a very high fever or complications such as bronchitis, pneumonia and a painful middle ear infection.
The children's flu vaccine is offered as a yearly nasal spray to young children to protect them against flu.
Don't put it off – ask your GP about the free flu nasal spray for your child.
Children at higher risk from flu
Children aged 2 to 17 with long-term health conditions such as diabetes are at higher risk from flu. It's especially important that they are vaccinated with the annual flu nasal spray instead of the annual flu jab, which they were previously given. Children between the ages of six months and two years who are at high risk from flu are offered the annual flu jab, usually at their GP surgery.
What are the side effects of the flu vaccine for children?
The nasal spray flu vaccine has few side effects – most commonly getting a runny nose after vaccination for a few days. Read more about the side effects of the flu vaccine for children.
How to get the flu vaccine for your child
Your child's GP or school should contact you about getting them vaccinated before the winter. Talk to the GP, practice nurse or your child's school nurse if you want more information about when and how your child will be vaccinated against flu. If you haven't heard from their GP by early November 2018, contact them directly to make an appointment.
How is the nasal spray flu vaccine given?
The vaccine is given as a single spray squirted up each nostril. Not only is it needle-free – a big advantage for children – the nasal spray is quick, painless, and works even better than the injected flu vaccine. The vaccine is absorbed very quickly. It will still work even if, after the vaccination, your child develops a runny nose, sneezes or blows their nose.
Are there any children who should delay having the nasal spray flu vaccine?
Children should have their nasal spray flu vaccination delayed if they:
- have a runny or blocked nose
- are wheezy
If a child has a heavily blocked or runny nose, it might stop the vaccine getting into their system. In this case, their flu vaccination should be postponed until their nasal symptoms have cleared up.
If a child is wheezy or has been wheezy in the past week, their vaccination should be postponed until they have been wheeze-free for at least three days.
Are there any children who should not have the nasal spray flu vaccine?
There are a few children who should avoid the nasal spray flu vaccine. The vaccine is not recommended for children who have:
- a severely weakened immune system
- severe egg allergy
- severe asthma – that is, those being treated with steroid tablets or high-dose inhaled steroids
- an allergy to any of the vaccine ingredients, such as neomycin
Children unable to have the nasal spray vaccine may be able to have the injectable flu vaccine instead.
How safe is the flu vaccine for children?
The flu vaccine for children has a good safety record. In the UK, millions of children have been vaccinated safely and successfully.
How does the children's flu vaccine work?
The vaccine contains live but weakened flu viruses that do not cause flu in children. It will help your child build up immunity to flu in a similar way as natural infection, but without the symptoms.
Because the main flu viruses change each year, a new nasal spray vaccine has to be given each year, in the same way as the injectable flu vaccine.
Stopping the spread of flu
The nasal spray flu vaccine will not only help protect your child against flu, the infection will also be less able to spread from them to their family, carers and the wider population. Children spread flu because they generally don't use tissues properly or wash their hands. Vaccinating children also protects others that are vulnerable to flu, such as babies, older people, pregnant women and people with serious long-term illnesses.
How many doses of the flu vaccine do children need?
Most children only need a single dose of the nasal spray. The patient information leaflet provided with the nasal spray suggests children should be given two doses of this vaccine if they've not had flu vaccine before. However, the NHS vaccination programme has advised that healthy children only need a single dose because a second dose of the vaccine provides little additional protection. Children aged two to nine years at risk of flu because of an underlying medical condition, who have not received flu vaccine before, should have two doses of the nasal spray given at least four weeks apart.
*If your child is born between 1 September 2014 and 31 August 2016
Flu for people aged 65 or over
Flu can be more severe in people aged 65 or over.
Flu can lead to serious complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia (a lung infection), and you could end up in hospital.
Don't put it off – contact your GP or a pharmacist to get a flu vaccine now. It's free because you need it.
65 and overs and the flu jab
You are eligible for the flu vaccine this year (2018-19) if you will be aged 65 and over on March 31 2019 – that is, you were born on or before March 31 1954. So, if you are currently 64 but will be 65 on March 31 2019, you do qualify.
Where to get the flu jab
You can have your NHS flu jab at:
- your GP surgery
- a local pharmacy offering the service
- your midwifery service if they offer it for pregnant women
Some community pharmacies now offer flu vaccination to adults (but not children) at risk of flu including pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, people with long-term health conditions and carers.
If you have your flu jab at a pharmacy, you don't have to inform your GP – it is up to the pharmacist to do that.
How effective is the flu jab?
Flu vaccine is the best protection we have against an unpredictable virus that can cause unpleasant illness in children and severe illness and death among at-risk groups, including older people, pregnant women and those with an underlying medical health condition.
Studies have shown that the flu jab will help prevent you getting the flu. It won't stop all flu viruses and the level of protection may vary, so it's not a 100% guarantee that you'll be flu-free, but if you do get flu after vaccination it's likely to be milder and shorter-lived than it would otherwise have been.
There is also evidence to suggest that the flu jab can reduce your risk of having a stroke.
Over time, protection from the injected flu vaccine gradually decreases and flu strains often change. So new flu vaccines are produced each year which is why people advised to have the flu jab need it every year too.
Flu jab side effects
Serious side effects of the injected flu vaccine are very rare. You may have a mild fever and aching muscles for a couple of days after having the jab, and your arm may be a bit sore where you were injected.
When to have a flu jab
The best time to have a flu vaccine is in the autumn, from the beginning of October to early November, but don't worry if you've missed it, you can have the vaccine later in winter. Ask your GP or pharmacist.
The flu jab for 2018/19
Each year, the viruses that are most likely to cause flu are identified in advance and vaccines are made to match them as closely as possible. The vaccines are recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Most injected flu vaccines protect against three types of flu virus:
- A/H1N1 – the strain of flu that caused the swine flu pandemic in 2009
- A/H3N2 – a strain of flu that mainly affects the elderly and people with risk factors like a long term health condition. In 2018/19 the vaccine will contain an A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 H3N2-like virus
- Influenza B – a strain of flu that particularly affects children. In 2018/19 the vaccine will contain B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus
The nasal spray flu vaccine and some injected vaccines also offer protection against a fourth B strain of virus, which in 2018/19 is the B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus.
Is there anyone who shouldn't have the flu jab?
Most adults can have the injected flu vaccine, but you should avoid it if you have had a serious allergic reaction to a flu jab in the past. People who have egg allergy may be at increased risk of reaction to the injectable flu vaccine because some flu jabs are made using eggs. If you are ill with a fever, it's best to delay your flu vaccination until you have recovered. There is no need to delay your flu jab if you have a minor illness with no fever such as a cold.
Flu vaccination when pregnant
It's known that flu can cause serious complications for you and your baby. You could both get ill. All pregnant women should have the flu vaccine to protect themselves and their babies.
The flu vaccine can be given safely at any stage of pregnancy, from conception onwards. You can get the free flu jab from your GP, pharmacist or midwife.
Pregnant women benefit from the flu vaccine because it will:
- Reduce the risk of serious complications such as pneumonia, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy
- Help protect their baby, who will continue to have some immunity to flu during the first few months of his or her life
- Reduce the chance of the mother passing the infection to her new baby
- Reduce the risk of miscarriage or having a baby born too soon or with a low birthweight
If you have flu symptoms, you should talk to your doctor urgently. If you do have flu, there is a prescribed medicine that might help or reduce the risk of complications, but it needs to be taken as soon as possible after the symptoms appear.
The flu jab is the safest way to help protect you and your baby. It's free because you need it, however many months pregnant you are, and however fit and healthy you might feel.
You can get the free flu vaccine from your GP, or it may also be available from your pharmacist or midwife.
Why are pregnant women advised to have the flu vaccine?
The flu jab will help protect both you and your baby. There is good evidence that pregnant women have a higher chance of developing complications if they get flu, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy. One of the most common complications of flu is bronchitis, a chest infection that can become serious and develop into pneumonia. If you have flu while you're pregnant, it could mean your baby is born prematurely or has a low birthweight, and may even lead to stillbirth or death.
Is the flu vaccine safe in pregnancy?
Yes. Studies have shown that it's safe to have the flu vaccine during any stage of pregnancy, from the first few weeks up to your expected due date. Women who have had the flu vaccine while pregnant also pass some protection on to their babies, which lasts for the first few months of their lives. It's safe for women who are breastfeeding to have the vaccine.
When should I have the flu jab?
The flu vaccine is normally available from September until around January or February each year. It's free for pregnant women. If you're eligible for the vaccine, try to have it as soon as possible so you're be protected by the time the flu viruses are circulating in the winter. Don't worry if you find that you're pregnant later on in the flu season – you can have the vaccine then if you haven't already had it.
How do I get the flu vaccine?
Contact your midwife or GP to find out where you can get the flu vaccine. It's a good idea to get vaccinated as soon as possible after the vaccine becomes available in September. In some areas, midwives can give a flu vaccine at the antenatal clinic. In others, you will need an appointment at a GP practice. Some community pharmacies now offer flu vaccination on the NHS.
If I had the flu jab last year, do I need to have it again now?
Yes, because the viruses that cause flu change every year. This means the flu (and the vaccine) this year may be different from last year. If you had the flu vaccine last year, either because you were pregnant or because you're in a vulnerable group, you need to have it again this year.
Will the flu jab give me flu?
No. The vaccine doesn't contain any live viruses, so it can't cause flu. Some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards, and you may feel a bit sore at the injection site.
Can I have the flu jab at the same time as the whooping cough vaccine?
Yes, you can have the flu jab at the same time as the whooping cough vaccine, but don't delay your flu jab simply so you can have both at the same time. Pregnant women are at risk of severe illness from flu at any stage of pregnancy, so you really need to have the flu vaccine as soon as possible.
The best time to get vaccinated against whooping cough is from 16 weeks up to 32 weeks of pregnancy. If you miss having the vaccine for any reason, you can still have it up until you go into labour.
I'm pregnant and think I have flu. What should I do?
Talk to your doctor as soon as possible. If you do have flu, there's a prescribed medicine you can take that might help, or reduce your risk of complications, but it needs to be taken very soon after symptoms appear.
Flu vaccination for carers and health care workers
Flu jab for health and social care workers
Outbreaks of flu can occur in health and social care settings, and, because flu is so contagious, staff, patients and residents are all at risk of infection. If you're a front-line health and social care worker, you are eligible for an NHS flu jab to protect yourself, your colleagues and other members of the community.
It is your employer's responsibility to arrange vaccination for you. So, if you are an NHS-employed front-line healthcare worker, the NHS will pay for your vaccination. If you are a social care worker, your employer should pay for vaccination. In the case of health and social care workers employed by private companies, those companies will arrange and pay for the vaccinations.
The NHS has this advice on flu vaccination of health and social care workers (PDF, 223kb).
Flu jab for carers
Carers are people who are in receipt of a carer's allowance, or those who are the main carer of an older or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill.
The flu jab is the best way to protect yourself and the person you care for from flu. The flu can be far more serious for the person you care for than you think. It can lead to serious complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia, and could even land them in hospital.
If you are the main carer for someone who is elderly or disabled, speak to your GP or pharmacist about having a flu jab along with the person you care for.
Read more about the flu jab for carers on the Carers UK website.
Don't put it off – contact your GP or pharmacist to get the flu jab now. It's free because you need it.
How the flu jab works
The injected flu vaccine stimulates your body's immune system to make antibodies to attack the flu virus. Antibodies are proteins that recognise and fight off germs, such as viruses, that have invaded your blood.
If you're exposed to the flu virus after you've had the flu vaccine, your immune system will recognise the virus and immediately produce antibodies to fight it. It may take 10 to 14 days for your immunity to build up fully after you have had the flu shot.
You need to have a flu jab every year, as the antibodies that protect you from flu decline over time, and flu strains can also change from year to year.
How the annual flu jab changes
In February each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) assesses the strains of flu virus that are most likely to be circulating in the northern hemisphere over the following winter.
Based on this assessment, WHO recommends which flu strains the vaccines should contain for the forthcoming winter. Vaccine manufacturers then produce flu vaccines based on WHO's recommendations. These flu jabs are used in all the countries in the northern hemisphere, not just the UK.
Production of the vaccine starts in March each year after WHO's announcement. The vaccine is usually available in the UK from September.
Types of flu virus
There are three types of flu viruses. They are:
- Type A flu virus – this is usually the more serious type. The virus is most likely to mutate into a new version that people are not resistant to. The H1N1 (swine flu) strain is a type A virus, and flu pandemics in the past were type A viruses.
- Type B flu virus – this generally causes a less severe illness and is responsible for smaller outbreaks. It mainly affects young children.
- Type C flu virus – this usually causes a mild illness similar to the common cold.
Most years, one or two strains of type A flu circulate as well as type B.
Flu vaccines can protect against three or four types of flu virus (usually two A types and one or two B types). For most flu vaccines, the strains of the viruses are grown in hens' eggs. The viruses are then killed (deactivated) and purified before being made into the vaccine. Because the injected flu vaccine is a killed vaccine, it cannot cause flu.
Flu jab ingredients
As there are lots of different flu vaccines produced each year, for more detailed information on ingredients ask your doctor or nurse for the patient information leaflet for the specific vaccine being offered.
Flu jab FAQs
When am I most at risk from flu?
Flu circulates every winter. This means many people get ill around the same time. In a bad year, this can be an epidemic. However, it is impossible to predict how many cases of flu there will be each year.
Does everyone need a flu jab?
No, just people who are at particular risk of problems if they catch flu. Ask your GP about having an NHS flu vaccination if:
- you're aged 65 or over
- you're pregnant
- you have a serious medical condition
- you live in a residential or nursing home
- you're the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill
- your child is in an at-risk group and is aged six months to two years
You should also be offered the flu vaccination if you are a healthcare or social care worker directly involved in patient care. Some pharmacies also offer free NHS flu vaccination to eligible adults. They do not offer this service for children.
Why are certain groups targeted for the flu jab?
Complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia are more common in people with other diseases, especially if they are also elderly. Almost all of the deaths related to flu are in people in these groups. In long-stay residential homes, vaccination helps prevent the rapid spread of flu among residents.
Can a GP vaccinate anyone else?
The final decision about who should be offered the vaccination on the NHS is a matter for your GP, based on your medical history and circumstances.
Is my child entitled to the flu jab?
If your child is aged between six months and two years old and is in a high-risk group for flu, they should have the flu jab. If your child is between two and 17 years old and is in a high-risk group for flu, they should have the nasal spray flu vaccine instead of the injection. Children aged two and three plus children in reception class and school years one, two, three and four are also eligible for the nasal spray flu vaccine.
How long will the flu jab protect me for?
The flu jab will provide protection for you for the upcoming flu season. People eligible for flu vaccination should have the vaccine each year.
Can I have the flu jab while I'm taking antibiotics?
Yes, it's fine to have the flu jab while you are taking a course of antibiotics, provided you are not ill with a fever.
How long does the flu vaccine take to become effective?
It takes between 10 and 14 days for your immune system to respond fully after you've had the flu jab.
If I had the flu jab last year, do I need it again now?
Yes. The viruses that cause flu can change every year, which means the flu (and the vaccine) this winter may be different from last winter.
Can the flu jab cause flu?
No. The vaccine does not contain any live viruses, so it cannot cause flu. You may get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards, and your arm may feel a bit sore where you had the injection. Other reactions are rare, and flu jabs have a good safety record.
When is the best time to get my flu jab?
The best time to have a flu vaccine is in the autumn, from the beginning of October to early November. But don't worry if you've missed this time, you can have the flu jab later in the winter although it's best to get it as early as possible.
Is there anyone who cannot have a flu jab?
Yes. You should not have the flu vaccine if you have ever had an allergic reaction to a flu vaccine or one of its ingredients. This happens very rarely. You also need to take precautions if you have an egg allergy.
Can I get the flu vaccine privately?
People who aren't eligible for a flu jab on the NHS can pay for a flu vaccination privately. The flu vaccine may be available from pharmacies or in supermarkets. It is provided on a private patient basis and you have to pay. The vaccine costs up to £20.
Why is it recommended that healthcare workers are vaccinated?
Vaccination prevents healthcare workers passing flu on to, or getting flu from, their patients. It also helps the NHS to keep running effectively during a flu outbreak, when GPs and hospital services are particularly busy.
Can I have a flu jab if I'm breastfeeding?
Yes. The vaccine poses no risk to a breastfeeding mother or her baby, or to pregnant women.
Is it OK to have the flu vaccine during pregnancy?
Yes. The flu vaccine is recommended for pregnant women and is safe to have at any stage of pregnancy, including in the first trimester and right up to the expected due date. It helps protect the mother-to-be and her newborn baby from catching flu.
How do I get the flu vaccine if my GP has run out?
If your GP has run out of flu vaccine, vaccine manufacturers and suppliers may have stocks available for ordering. Some local pharmacies offer a free flu vaccination service to NHS patients who are eligible for flu vaccination. This service is only available for adults, however, not children.
10 myths about flu and the flu vaccine
Flu is just like having a heavy cold
A bad bout of flu is much worse than a heavy cold. Flu symptoms come on suddenly and sometimes severely. They include fever, chills, headaches and aching muscles, as well as a cough and sore throat.
You're likely to spend two or three days in bed. If you get complications caused by flu, you could become seriously ill and have to go to hospital.
The flu vaccine gives you flu
No, it doesn't. The injected flu vaccine given to adults contains inactivated flu viruses, so it can't give you flu. Your arm may feel a bit sore where you were injected, and some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards. Other reactions are very rare. The children's nasal spray flu vaccine contains live but weakened flu viruses that will not give your child flu.
Flu can be treated with antibiotics
No, it can't. Flu is caused by viruses – antibiotics only work against bacteria. You may be prescribed antiviral medicines to treat your flu. Antivirals do not cure flu, but they can make you less infectious to others and reduce the length of time you may be ill. To be effective, antivirals have to be given within a day or two of your symptoms appearing. A bacterial infection may occur as a result of having the flu, in which case you may be given antibiotics.
Once you've had the flu vaccine, you're protected for life
No, you aren't. The viruses that cause flu can change every year, so you need a vaccination that matches the new viruses each year. The vaccine usually provides protection for the duration of that year's flu season.
I'm pregnant, so I shouldn't have the flu jab because it will affect my baby
You should have the vaccine no matter what stage of pregnancy you're in. If you're pregnant, you could get very ill if you get flu, which could also be bad for your baby. Having the jab can also protect your baby against flu after they're born and during the early months of life.
The flu jab won't protect me against swine flu
Yes, it will. This year's flu vaccine protects against three different flu viruses, including the H1N1 swine flu virus. This is because the virus is expected to be circulating this year.
Children can't have the flu vaccine
Yes, they can! The nasal spray flu vaccine is recommended on the NHS for all healthy two- and three-year-olds – plus children in reception class, and school years one, two, three and four. In addition, children "at risk" of serious illness if they catch flu are eligible for a flu vaccine on the NHS. This includes children with a pre-existing illness, such as a respiratory or neurological condition, and children who are having treatment that weakens their immune system, such as chemotherapy.
The flu vaccine is generally given as an injection to children aged six months to two years and as a nasal spray to children aged 2 to 17 years who have a long-term health condition. The flu vaccine isn't suitable for babies under the age of six months.
I've had the flu already this autumn, so I don't need the vaccination this year
You do need it if you're in one of the "at risk" groups. As flu is caused by several viruses, the immunity you naturally developed will only protect you against one of them – you could go on to catch another strain, so it's recommended you have the jab even if you've recently had flu. Also, what you thought was flu could have been something else.
If I missed having the flu jab in October, it's too late to have it later in the year
No, it's not too late. It's better to have the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available, usually in October, but it's always worth getting vaccinated after this, even if there have already been outbreaks of flu.
Vitamin C can prevent flu
No, it can't. Many people think that taking daily vitamin C supplements will stop them getting flu, but there's no evidence to prove this.
Support and useful contacts: winter health
Information and advice for those aged 65+, including benefits and grants advice. Tel: 03006669860
Trussell Trust provides emergency food supplies for those in crisis.
Help with your problems and concerns - like debt, benefits, work, relationships and more - in total confidence. Tel: 0344 499 4120.
Advice and support for carers. Tel: 0345 241 0954
Cambs Fire and Rescue Service
Free safe and well visit for any vulnerable members of the community. Tel: 01480 444 500.
Support for those with mental health challenges. Tel: 01223 311320
||Care Network Cambridgeshire
Support for older, isolated and vulnerable people following a discharge from hospital, or doing tasks such as collecting prescriptions, monitoring wellbeing and practical jobs.
Safe Local Trades
Access to recommended, vetted and trustworthy traders
DIAL Peterborough is your local centre for free confidential and impartial information and advice, for physically disabled people, their carers and families. The purpose of DIAL Peterborough is to provide a range of services that assist people with physical disabilities to achieve their potential and have maximum choice and control over their lives.
Supports families with young children to cope with different challenges such as twins or triplets, bereavement or illness, disability, mental ill health, money or housing problems or isolation. Tel: 0116 4645490
||The Peterborough Wellbeing Service
Local community based organisations supporting people to improve their health and wellbeing in Peterborough. Tel: 01733 342683
Stay Well this Winter
Advice on how to Stay Well this Winter from the NHS
Advice from NHS Choices on how to keep warm and keep well.
||Keep Warm Keep Well Booklet
This booklet aims to help you maintain good health during winter and take advantage of the financial help and benefits available.
Advice an support for disabled people and their families. Helpline 0808 800 3333 (9am-5pm Monday – Friday) www.scope.org.uk
DIAL Peterborough is your local centre for free confidential and impartial information and advice, for physically disabled people, their carers and families. Helpline 01733 265551 10am-4pm Monday- Thursday) www.disabilitypeterborough.org/