I SEEM to have a build up of thick phlegm in my throat. I also have a cough, which is worse before I go to sleep. Should I be worried?

Unfortunately, winter brings with it a whole host of seasonal ailments.

If the phlegm hasn't cleared up on its own, self-help techniques and over the counter medicines are the best way to relieve symptoms.

If you're worried and have had a cough for more than three weeks, you should speak to your GP or local pharmacist.

When you have a winter cold, you should try making simple environmental changes – such as avoiding warm, dry atmospheres, and dehydration.

Before you buy over the counter decongestant medicines speak to your community pharmacist who will help select the best product for your needs.

I HAVE an operation coming up and have been told I need a general anaesthetic. What does it involve?

General anaesthesia is a state of controlled unconsciousness where medications are used to send you to sleep.

It means you're unaware of surgery and don't move or feel pain while it's carried out. It's usually used for long operations or those that would otherwise be very painful.

All anaesthetics interrupt the passage of signals along the nerves. This means that any stimulation to the body doesn't get processed or recognised by the brain.

Before having an operation, you'll meet a specialist doctor called an anaesthetist to discuss which anaesthetic is most suitable for you. They will look at your medical history and ask about your health and lifestyle.

You'll be given clear instructions to follow before the operation, including whether you can eat or drink anything in the hours leading up to it.

Just before you have surgery, you'll usually be taken to a room where your anaesthetist will give you the general anaesthetic.

It will either be a liquid that's injected into your veins through a thin, plastic tube that feeds into a vein or gas that you breathe in through a mask.

Other types of anaesthetic involve injections around nerves e.g. in your back as in an epidural. The anaesthetic should take effect very quickly.

You'll start feeling light-headed, before becoming unconscious within a minute or so. The anaesthetist will stay with you throughout the operation. Afterwards, you will be in a recovery room before being transferred to a ward.

WHAT is agoraphobia?

Many people understand agoraphobia as a fear of open spaces, however it can also include situations where escape to a place of safety may be difficult such as a fear of being in shops, fear of crowds and public places, or of travelling on trains, buses or planes.

Panic attacks are a common feature of agoraphobia. In extreme cases, people with agoraphobia may be unable to leave their home.

People with agoraphobia may experience some or all of the following symptoms, similar to having a panic attack; shaking, rapid heartbeat, intense sweating, chest pain, difficulty breathing, feelings of choking, nausea, dizziness, a feeling of loss of control and fear of fainting.

Some people with milder agoraphobia will feel marked anxiety or distress on leaving home but the symptoms do not develop into a panic attack.

A healthcare professional based on a description of the symptoms usually makes a diagnosis. For those unable to leave home an initial phone consultation with a GP can be arranged. It is important to describe symptoms fully to your GP even if this is difficult to do. They will then be able to arrange the best treatment

Agoraphobia can be treated using drugs or by using 'talking treatments' like cognitive-behavioural therapy.