Winter – preparing for ills and chills

Are you and your medicine cabinet ready for winter?

Good preparation can help you to cope better when those winter ailments arrive for you and your whānau. See what you can do to get ready.

Avoid that terrible feeling of not knowing what to do, and not having the medicines you need when you're feeling unwell over winter. Now is the perfect time to think ahead by:

  • Finding out what to expect given your existing health conditions.
  • Thinking about how winter coughs and colds may affect you and your whānau.
  • Reviewing the contents of your medicine cabinet. 

Here are some things to consider as you get ready.

1. Have a clean out - throw away expired medicines

Keeping multiple pill bottles is confusing. Plus, the last thing you’ll want to do if you get sick is rummage through bottles and boxes of old medication. Have a clear out of expired and unwanted medicines. It is important that these are disposed of properly as they can be bad for the environment. Read more about medicines and the environment and returning expired or unused medicines to your pharmacy.

2. Keep a few items on hand

It is handy to have a few items that you are most likely to need on hand. For example, pain and fever is one of the most common symptoms of a cold or the fluParacetamol is safe to use for pain or fever. Ibuprofen may be used but it is not suitable for many people with health conditions. Your pharmacist can tell you if ibuprofen is suitable for you. 

There are other things it might be helpful to have, some of which you probably already have in your bathroom, pantry or garden:

  • Moisturiser to help with dry skin.
  • Aromatic chest rub to help ease congestion.
  • Tissues for runny noses.
  • Honey can help soothe a sore throat.
  • Fruit teas, or fresh lemons or mint, for making soothing warm drinks and staying hydrated.

Image credit: Canva

3. Know what to do if you are unwell

If you have a long term health condition such as diabetes, asthma or COPD, check in advance with your healthcare provider if you need a sick day plan. This plan will outline any changes to your regular medicines that are needed, and when to contact your healthcare provider, if you are unwell. If you have a cold there are things you can do to manage the symptoms, eg, sore throat, blocked nose, fever. Read more about colds and when you might need to visit your doctor.

If you are having cold and flu type symptoms remember that it might be COVID-19. It is important that you get tested for it in case you need to isolate and protect your whānau and local community. 

4. Talk to your pharmacist for advice

If you feel like you are coming down with something, even if it’s just a cough or cold, don’t wait until it gets worse. Act quickly – the sooner you get advice the better – pharmacists can help and are fully qualified to advise you on the best course of action. If you can’t get to see a pharmacist yourself, ask someone to go for you or call your local pharmacy for further information. Find your local Pharmacist here.

5. Dress up warmly

Make sure your and your whānau have warm clothes. Being cold can weaken your immune system and make it easier for you to get sick when you come into contact with cold and flu viruses. Second hand shops are likely to stock hats, scarves and gloves. If you are a knitter you could make your own, if not, you may know somebody who is and you could swap some knitting for baking or a skill you have that they need. 

Learn more

A cold or the flu? Or COVID-19?
Snot and sputum
Medicines – expiry date
What services do pharmacies offer?


  1. Is your medicine cabinet winter ready? NHS Sunderland, UK, 2020
  2. Do I have to wear a jacket when it's cold outside? The Conversation, US, 2020 
Credits: Health Navigator Pharmacists.