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International Men’s Health Week: Our study into men’s health and a medical guide to treating common ailments

It’s International Men’s Health Week this week and since it’s a fact that it’s mostly men that work in the trade – 85.6% of construction workers alone identify as male* – we wanted to shine a light on how important it is for people to look after their health.

There are various stigmas attached to men’s health – such as the harmful view that people should ‘man up’ when it comes to certain issues. With this in mind, we wanted to know what men’s general attitude to seeking professional medical advice is – if they do speak to a doctor when they need to, what issues they might speak about, and what the reasons they might avoid seeing a GP are.

We surveyed 2,000 men in the UK, aged over 18, to give us a fuller picture of how men look after their health. We also worked with a registered medical practice nurse to create a guide on how men can look after more common health concerns.

Our study findings

Some of the results of our survey were just shocking – see what we found out below.

On seeing a doctor for an ailment or injury:

  • As many as 4.2m men in the UK (13%) would avoid visiting their GP unless their ailment or injury was becoming completely unbearable
  • 2% said that they wouldn’t visit a GP at all
  • Men over the age of 65 were the age group least likely to visit a doctor
  • Survey respondents in Wales were the most likely to say they wouldn’t see the doctor at all for a health issue
  • Those from Yorkshire and the Humber were the most likely to say they wouldn’t seek medical professional advice unless the issue in question became unbearable for them

Health issues and the percentage of men who wouldn’t seek medical advice for them:

  • Chest pains: 45%
  • Breathlessness: 55%
  • Dizziness and headaches: 67%
  • Mental health: 68%
  • Rashes, lumps, bumps or unusual skin marks: 69%
  • Eye/vision problems: 73%
  • Sexual health: 74%
  • Joint pains: 79%
  • Earache:80%
  • Allergies: 86%
  • Muscle pains: 86%
  • Strains and sprains: 87%
  • Colds / flu / viruses: 90%
  • Bites, scratches and abrasions: 92%

Reasons why people wouldn’t visit a doctor:

  • 43% of men believe that their concerns are not serious enough to visit their GP 
  • 30% believe that they would just be wasting their GP’s time
  • 15% of men don’t want to take the time off work for an appointment
  • 27% of young men aged between 18 and 25 avoided the doctor due to the health anxiety from receiving a diagnosis

A registered medical nurse’s guide to looking after common health issues: 

Lucy Peates, a registered medical practice nurse, has experience of tradesmen seeking help for various ailments or injuries that are sometimes work-related. 

Lucy says, “To learn in the survey findings that most men might ignore things such as chest pains, breathlessness, headaches and dizziness, mental health or unusual lumps, bumps and rashes, is truly worrying. For any of these issues – I recommend you get a doctor appointment booked as soon as you can. 

“Your health is the most important thing and despite any worries I promise seeking a doctor’s advice shouldn’t be a scary thing. If you have an issue, you aren’t wasting anyone’s time and it should never be something you avoid doing.”

When it comes to the more common ailments and injuries, here are Lucy’s top tips for tradesmen suffering, how they can be treated in alternative ways, and when it’s time to see the doctor:

  1. Bites, scratches, abrasions

Seeing the pharmacist is a quick way to get a bite, scratch or abrasion assessed without booking in with the GP. They can advise on the best dressings to use and if there are any topical creams that might help.

Watch out for the area becoming hot, red or inflamed as this could indicate an infection, and at this point, I would recommend seeking advice from a doctor as they will be able to prescribe medicines like antibiotics when a pharmacist can’t.

If you’ve been injured by something dirty like a piece of material (e.g. a rusty nail), it’s well worth finding out if you have an up-to-date Tetanus vaccination to avoid serious illness. A call to your GP surgery will confirm this.

  1. Colds, flu and viruses

I think at this point, the general public knows more about viruses than ever before with the  outbreak of COVID-19. For standard colds, flu and viruses, I advise rest at home and lots of hydration unless it develops into something serious.

There are plenty of over-the-counter medicines that can help to relieve symptoms such as Paracetamol and Ibuprofen, even with some a little more specialist to help with sore throats, coughs and painful sinuses.

Avoid transmission to others by catching sneezes and coughs in tissues and disposing of them responsibly, and washing hands regularly. Also look into information around vaccinations, if you’ve not already.

If the illness develops into more major symptoms such as breathlessness, then seek further advice, and if it’s life-threatening then call 999.

  1.  Strains and sprains, muscle pain and joint ache

If you’re not going to initially see a GP for a strain or a sprain, muscle pain or joint ache, you can always self-refer to a local physiotherapist who will either be able to do an in-person or over the phone or video call consultation. 

A pharmacist can also advise on certain joint supports, such as a brace or a belt, as well as over-the-counter pain relief medications that can either be taken orally or applied directly to the affected area.

If you’ve tried all of these things to solve the issue yourself at home, yet the pain or issues continue to persist and make things in your home or working life difficult, then it’s worth speaking to a doctor for further advice. If you discuss an issue early on, it can be better in terms of treatment and outcome, rather than waiting and the problem becoming worse.

  1. Allergies

If it’s an issue such as hay fever, then there are over-the-counter remedies available that a pharmacist can definitely advise on. Though if these don’t do the trick, and your allergy is making your home and work life miserable, or it’s causing minor difficulty breathing, it’s worth seeing a doctor to discuss what else might be done.

In terms of food or bee sting allergies for example, these can be very serious indeed. If you or anyone else is experiencing signs of anaphylaxis – such as swelling, difficulty breathing, a rapid yet weak pulse, rash or vomiting – then call (or get someone else to call) 999, as these can be life-threatening symptoms.

  1. Earache

This might be caused by a variety of issues, including earwax, but under absolutely no circumstances should you poke foreign objects into your ear as it can cause serious damage or infection. Again, a pharmacist will be your friend here, as they can advise on the best over-the-counter pain relief. I’d recommend seeing a GP for this when you experience it, as it could be an infection or something else, but if you put up with it and the pain persists for more than two weeks, then definitely see a GP.

  1. Rashes, lumps, bumps or skin issues

With lumps, bumps or other skin issues, which can be quite common for tradespeople and other outdoor workers out in the sun, it’s important to keep an eye on them and watch out for any changes in appearance. Moles, lumps or skin marks that seem to change appearance, get itchy, starts flaking or bleeding should not be ignored and should be checked as soon as possible. And always wear sun cream if you’re working outside!

Lucy adds,

“I’m hoping that the guide can help busy tradesmen to look after their health better – whether it’s care they can do at home, advice they can get from professionals that aren’t GPs or to encourage them to visit a doctor so the problem doesn’t get worse. I’m happy that we can play a part in encouraging men to take better care of themselves, not just for International Men’s Health Week but always.”

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