Symptoms of the 10 most common winter illnesses caused by the cold weather – from norovirus to cold sores

And with that massive drop comes the inevitable increase in winter bugs and viruses spreading around schools and offices.

Some of them, like the common cold and flu, you're aware of and come to expect as soon as temperatures drop (however annoying they may be).

But others, like asthma and heart attacks, you may not be aware are associated with the cold.

So it's dead important that you know exactly what to look out for and how to protect yourself – especially this early on in the season.

Here are the 10 most common winter illnesses and how you can spot them:

1. A cold

It's no surprise the cold is one of the most common winter illnesses – after all the clue is in the name.

Put simple, a cold is a mild viral infection of the nose, throat and sinuses.

It can cause a sore throat, a blocked or runny nose, sneezing, a cough and aches and pains.

It can also cause a fever.

Symptoms normally clear up on their own in a week or two so there is no need to visit your GP.

Taking over the counter painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen can help ease any discomfort it is causing.

You can help prevent the spread of colds by washing your hands regularly to kill any bugs you may have picked up.

You should wash your hands for the same amount of time it takes to sing the happy birthday song twice.

2. Flu

Another very common bug during the colder months is the flu.

Unlike a cold, the flu is more dangerous and can kill.

The elderly, pregnant women and people with long-term health problems are more at risk of serious complications.

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Flu is an infectious virus spread by coughing and sneezing.

It causes a fever, tiredness and weakness, a headache, aches and pains, a dry cough and cold-like symptoms including a runny nose.

The illness will usually clear up in about a week.

Again, you can take paracetamol and ibuprofen to relieve your temperature and aches and pains.

It is also important to drink plenty of water to avoid getting dehydrated.

The best way to protect yourself is by getting vaccinated – the jab or nasal spray is available for children aged between two and 17, people over 65 and other vulnerable people.

3. Asthma

You probably know that asthma is a life-long condition, but did you know that the cold weather can trigger potentially deadly attacks.

Breathing in freezing cold air can make asthma symptoms worse for the four million sufferers in the UK, increasing the risk of an attack.

That’s because the damp air gets into the airways, and causes them to go into spasm.

This can cause wheezing and shortness of breath.

By wearing a scarf over the mouth and nose it can help warm up the air before you breathe it in, lowering the risk of an attack, according to Asthma UK.

You should also try and avoid being out in the cold air for too long, stay indoors on windy days and make sure you have your inhaler with your at all times.

4. Norovirus

Also known as the winter vomiting bug, norovirus can leave you bedridden for several days.

It’s one of the most common stomach bugs in the UK and is rampant during the colder months, although you can catch it at any time of year.

If you have norovirus you will experience a sudden feeling of sickness, projectile vomiting and watery diarrhoea.

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You may also have a slight fever, headaches, painful stomach cramps and aches and pains.

If you do start experiencing these symptoms you should always stay at home and get plenty of rest until you are feeling better.

You should not go to work, or let your child go to school if they are infected, as you will spread the illness to other people you have contact with – and no one will thank you for that.

Symptoms usually clear up in two to three days, but if they don’t that’s when you should speak to your GP.

To help your body fight the bug you should get plenty of rest, make sure you drink plenty of fluids to stop yourself becoming dehydrated, you can take paracetamol for the aches and pains and you can take antidiarrhoeal and anti-vomiting medication.

5. Sore throat

It's no surprise that when you are breathing in cold air over winter you are more likely to end up with a sore throat.

They are almost always caused by a viral infection but are usually nothing to worry about.

You can ease the pain by taking ibuprofen or paracetamol, drinking plenty of warm fluids, eating soft foods to avoid irritating your throat and gargling salt water or mouthwash.

Sucking on medicated throat lozenges or sprays sold in pharmacies may also help ease the discomfort of a sore throat, although the NHS notes there is little scientific evidence to suggest that they work.

A sore throat should clear up on its own within a week.

6. Heart attack

Winter can also put pressure on your heart – with heart attacks far more common in the colder months.

It is not known exactly why this occurs, but one theory is that cold weather increases our blood pressure and therefore puts a strain on the heart.

Your heart also has to work harder to pump blood around the body to keep us warm when temperatures drop

A heart attack occurs when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked.

The heart muscle is then robbed of vital oxygenated blood, which if left untreated, can cause the heart muscle to begin to die.

A heart attack is a life-threatening emergency.

If you think someone is suffering one, it is important to dial 999 straight away.

You can reduce your risk this winter by wrapping up warm when you go out and wear a hat, scarf and gloves.

7. Cold sores

Another side effect of cold weather is chapped, dry lips.

That also means cold sores for anyone with the herpes simplex virus.

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They normally occur when you become stressed or run down and with winter bringing the risk of illness like colds you are more likely to feel run down during those months.

Cold sores are small blisters that develop on the lips or around the mouth.

They often start as a tingling or burning sensation before the fluid-filled bumps appear and usually clear up within a week or so.

Unfortunately there is no cure for cold sores but you can reduce your risk by taking steps to be less stressed.

You can also buy antiviral creams from your local pharmacy that will help clear them up sooner.

8. Cold hands and feet

You're probably thinking that having cold hands and feet in winter is hardly an illness, but some people suffer from a condition that makes their extremities cold and painful.

Raynaud's phenomenon  is a common condition that affects the blood supply to the fingers and toes.

It can also be triggered by anxiety and stress.

The condition causes the hands and feet to turn white then blue, then red as the blood flow returns.

It can also cause numbness, pain and pins and needles.

In most cases sufferers learn to live with the symptoms and don't require medical attention.

Symptoms can be reduced by not smoking, avoiding alcohol and always wearing warm gloves, socks and shoes.

9. Painful joints

For people that suffer with arthritis their joints may become more painful and stiff in the winter.

But it is not clear why this happens.

One theory is that people often become more depressed in winter, known as seasonal affective disorder, and that can make them perceive pain more acutely.

Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in the joints.

There are 10 million people in the UK that have arthritis.

The main symptoms include joint pain and tenderness, inflammation, restricted movement of the joints, warm and red skin over the affected joints and weakness of the muscles.

10. Dry skin

Those who suffer from dry skin tend to see it worsen over the winter months.
Cold air sucks the natural moisture out of the skin, which can irritate it further.

It is essential to use a good quality moisturiser during the colder months to protect your skin.

If your skin becomes too dry it can become itchy and even crack, leaving you at risk of developing nasty skin infections.

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