Do's and don'ts of festive first aid you should know as GPs close for Christmas

With flu season underway, it’s natural to want reassurance from your GP.

But Christmas closures are looming – so what can you do if you get sick or injured this week?

We spoke to GP Dr Jeff Foster for top advice on when you do, and don’t, need medical attention.


In the chaos of cooking, it’s easy to get a burn off the oven or while steaming broccoli.

Note how deep it is, and where.

Superficial burns affect the surface – they turn red, hurt and maybe blister.

Pain tends to be a good marker. Run it under cold water for 10 minutes or more.

Pain is a good marker of a healthy burn, run it under cold water for 10 minutes or more if needed

Cover blisters, don’t pop them.

Partial thickness burns tend to heal well but, if the area is large, you might need to see a doctor for wound dressing.

Full thickness burns are a worry.

Instead of going red, they appear white or black where skin and nerves have been destroyed.

They need medical attention in A&E straight away and can lead to ulceration or skin loss.

But these aren’t caused by a bit of turkey fat spitting – they are more often severe electrical burns or from submersion in hot water.

WATCH OUT: If you suffer “wrap around” burning on your hands, legs or feet, no matter how superficial, get checked at hospital as swelling can cut off blood supply.

Always get facial burns checked as that area scars the most easily.

Girl dressed for Christmas drinking tea in bed


If a sickness bug hits, steer clear of others as you’re likely to be very contagious. Good hand hygiene is key to preventing it spreading.

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Food poisoning is different. You usually vomit within four hours of eating, and it’s not contagious.

You don’t need to see a GP for either, as nothing can cure an acute viral bug or a dodgy meal. Just make sure you stay hydrated and keep blood sugar levels up.

SEE A DOC IF … you can’t keep anything down, including water, and are vomiting and have diarrhoea at the same time. You may need fluids within 24 hours. Go to A&E – the GP cannot help and you will expose vulnerable people.

WATCH OUT: Kids under five will suffer effects more quickly. Dehydration in the young is dangerous – call the GP or out of hours clinic to help assess the severity.

Wash dirty wounds with soap and water first before covering with a plaster


Rinse small cuts and apply a plaster. Wash dirty wounds with soap and water first, then cover.

Tetanus risk in the UK is low unless bitten by high-risk animals such as horses, or you step on a rusty nail. Most people will have had a tetanus jab, which protects you for five to 10 years. If you haven’t, speak to a doctor.

If your cut is bleeding, squeeze and apply pressure. It should stop within five to 10 minutes.

WARNING: If you’re on blood ­thinners such as aspirin or warfarin, you’re at risk of heavy bleeding. You should still be able to treat it at home, but it may bleed for longer. Seek GP, out of hours or call 111 if it doesn’t stop.

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Waking coughing in the night can wear us down – the average viral cough lasts at least two weeks. Relaxation of soft throat tissues and dry air from central heating make night-time worse.

You can only ride it out. Raise the end of the bed, run a humidifier and take paracetamol (or Calpol for kids) before bed.

Don’t visit your GP if it’s been under two weeks and you’re otherwise well, unless you have asthma, cystic fibrosis or a similar condition.

SEE A DOC IF … you have pain on breathing in, cough up blood or have a temperature over 37.8C.

Watch out for raised breathing rates.

Anything above 50 breaths a minute in the under-ones, 40 a minute (one to 12 years) and over 20 a minute (13 or older) warrants a visit to a doctor.

WARNING: If your child’s ribs suck in, they’re struggling to breathe, are listless and not themselves, always get them checked by a doctor.

As an adult, if you have an increased breathing rate, have blood in your mucus and/or chest pain, see a GP without delay.

Rest your ankle and make sure you ice it for the first 48 hours to limit swelling

Twisted ankle

This can lead to swelling and pain and is very common now as people head for nights out.

Your ankle can balloon up with both sprains and fractures.

The difference is you’ll be able to walk on a sprain – on a fracture it’s near impossible to do so.

Rest the ankle, ice it for the first 48 hours to limit swelling, and keep it raised.

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At night, your ankle should be higher than your waist. Check for bone tenderness by pressing on the bones either side of the ankle.

If they’re not sore, but the muscles below are, it’s most likely a sprain.

If you have pain in the bone, a fracture is more likely.

For fractures, don’t go to the GP or A&E, but straight to your local minor injuries unit for an X-ray.

Move as much as possible to speed up healing of a pulled muscle

Muscle or back pain

If you’re unlucky enough to pull a muscle over Christmas, move as much as possible to speed healing.

WHEN TO WORRY… If you have pain going into both legs, have lost sensation to wee or poo, and skin doesn’t feel the same in the area between your legs, go to A&E or call an ambulance.

A disc in your spine may be compressing your nerves, with risk of paralysis.

Feeling low

Christmas can feel lonely, with depression and anxiety peaking between December and January.

Last year the Samaritans handled more than 300,000 calls for help in this period.

Christmas can trigger bad memories and too high expectations of what you should be doing, or how happy you should feel.

If you’re in crisis over suicide or self-harm, or feel you’re a danger to yourself or others, call an ambulance, go to A&E or call the Samaritans on 116 123 , 24/7.

You can also find helpful guidance at, or call 111 for community mental health teams.

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Don’t delay on crucial symptoms

Never ignore symptoms that may require emergency help. Dial 999 or go to A&E immediately if:

* A rash doesn’t go down with glass test

* Loved ones (especially children and the elderly) suffer acute shortness of breath, weakness, decreased consciousness or unresponsiveness.

* Someone suffers a suspected stroke, which usually come on quickly. Visit for a full list of symptoms.

* Someone is showing signs of sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to infection in the body that can be hard to spot, especially in babies, children, people with dementia, those with learning or communication difficulties. For a full list of symptoms, visit and search ‘sepsis.’


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