While Whanganui District Health Board (WDHB) recognises that winter illnesses can be very unpleasant, health promotion officer Chester Penaflor says feeling unwell doesn't always require a visit to the doctor.

Mr Penaflor said he was concerned by reports that people are seeking medical help from their doctor, Whanganui Accident & Medical (WAM) and Whanganui Hospital's Emergency Department for common colds.

He said it's important people understand the difference between a cold and the flu.

"While a cold might take a day to develop, influenza can do so within a few hours and with an accompanying fever, more than 38.6C, and muscle aches."

Mr Penaflor said most colds last a week or two at the most, and in general, people probably won't need to see a doctor.

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"Self-care such as getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids and avoiding exposure to smoke is what you need to do."

Taking Panadol for your fever, aches and pains can also help.

"Don't be alarmed by coughing. It's the body's way of removing mucus from your airway passages, or of reacting to an irritated airway.

"Because colds and flu are caused by viruses, antibiotics will not help you get better any sooner. Antibiotics only work when someone has bacterial infection. There are times when the flu can lead to an infection."

Mr Penaflor said the time people should see their GP is when they have one or more of the following symptoms: skin rash, an earache that gets more painful, a sore throat and/or cough that gets worse or becomes painful, difficulty with breathing and/or chest pain, high fever lasting more than two days, chills and headaches that last several days.

"This is especially important for young children, older adults and people with chronic illnesses who are at higher risk for complications caused by colds."

If you are caring for a young baby and need reassurance then by all means go to your general practice where a nurse can give you support and advice or ring Health line.

If you are elderly, on lots of medication and are anxious about how to manage your health then either ring Healthline in the first instance or go to your general practice and ask for advice.

WAM and ED provide a triage nursing service which assesses patients as they enter the waiting area. Clinical assessment will determine if you go to WAM or ED.

To help reduce unnecessary visits to your doctor, WAM or the hospital's Emergency Department, do your best to determine if you have a common cold or influenza.

If however, you are unsure, call Healthline on 0800 611 116, or visit http://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/conditions-and-treatments/diseases-and-illnesses/colds for more information.

"We always urge people to cover their mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and to do this by coughing or sneezing into the crook of your arm rather into your hand.

"And don't forget that the flu vaccine is available until the end of December."