Christmas is undoubtedly a time for celebration, gifts, and a touch of overindulgence.
But a mixture of inhospitable weather and too much overindulgence can often be a recipe for illness; particularly when our immune systems are at their weakest during the winter months.
So while it’s important to relax and enjoy time with friends and family during the festive season, it’s also vital to be vigilant, and prepared for those ailments that may threaten to hamper the merry proceedings.
Without wishing to dampen the excitement, we’ve put together a list of those illnesses that are more commonplace at this time of year, and what you can do to prevent them:
Perhaps the most common of all winter ailments, a bout of flu will usually pass within a week or so; but is by no means pleasant when in action.
Stopping flu is all about looking after your immune system and limiting your risk of infection. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and plenty of fruit and veg in your diet to keep your body’s defences alert; and ask your doctor about the flu vaccination.
2. Alcohol Poisoning
One eventuality of nearly every end of year office party is that someone will be overzealous in adhering to the ‘merry’ directive when having a Merry Christmas time.
But alcohol poisoning isn’t a condition to take lightly. It’s important to remember that the liver can only filter out around one unit of alcohol per hour. The more and the quicker you drink, the riskier it is for your body; so remember to pace yourself, even if everybody else isn’t doing the same.
3. Food Poisoning
Cramming the oven full of food on Christmas morning comes with its dangers. Raw and undercooked meat, particularly turkey and chicken, is a major cause of salmonella poisoning.
The best way to avoid falling foul of food poisoning is to make sure everything you serve is cooked through. Make a plan of what needs to go into the oven and when, and remember that overloading can reduce oven temperature and affect cooking times.
4. Allergic Reaction
The traditional Christmas dinner certainly presents hazards for those with severe food allergies. Prawn cocktail (shellfish allergies) and sprouts roasted with chestnuts (nut allergies) are just two potential triggers which those prone to anaphylaxis will want to steer clear of.
If you’re having people over, checking everyone’s dietary requirements beforehand and making your diners aware of any potential allergens is essential.
Alcohol poisoning isn't the only danger when getting carried away on a night out, or at the office party. Studies have shown that couples enjoying a chance encounter are much less likely to use protection when under the influence of alcohol.
Using protection, such as a condom, is vital in preventing the spread of bacterial STIs such as chlamydia, as is getting tested regularly.
6. Ear infection
Cold weather is not the cause of ear infections per se; but opportune infections of the throat which are generally more common in winter can travel up the Eustachian tube and cause infections of this kind. Furthermore, going out into the cold without appropriate headwear can make the associated discomfort worse.
Again, the best defence is to look after you immune system, and wrap up warm.
Skiing is a popular choice during the festive season for those looking to spend some time away. Frostbite, however, is a real risk for those exposed to freezing temperatures. Common signs are the extremities turning red or purple, and feelings of pain or numbness in the affected area.
If you are planning on a winter skiing holiday, be prepared. Once you’ve got all the equipment you need, make sure you’ve got the right warm clothing too.
Another condition which may occur as a result of being exposed to cold temperatures for too long is hypothermia. This is characterised in mild cases by shivering, tiredness, shortness of breath. In more severe cases, the condition can be very serious and even fatal.
Once again, prevention is all about staying warm. That means wearing enough layers when going outside, and getting changed out of any wet clothes when you get home.
More and more people are choosing to get away from the cold winter climate of the UK and celebrate Christmas in a tropical location; however this presents its own unique set of hazards.
Before jetting off to any tropical region, it’s vital to do your research on the area first and see if there is a risk of any particular types of infection. For malaria, tablets are available which can help to prevent infection; and for other illnesses, there are various vaccinations available too. Speak to your GP well in advance of travel.
Also referred to as the ‘winter blues’, SAD is a condition characterised by feelings of depression during the winter months. It’s only recently that seasonal affective disorder has become recognised as an illness, and is thought to be caused by a lack of natural light affecting melatonin production.
It is possible to limit the effects of SAD. This involves spending more time outdoors during daylight hours, and eating a balanced diet inclusive of fruit and veg to help keep vitamin D levels healthy.
Shopping-related stress is exponentially more prominent during December than at any other time of year. In the space of one month, Black Friday, the run up to Christmas itself, and the January sale (starting Boxing Day) all take place, a combination guaranteed to send even the most patient shopper’s stress levels through the roof.
Getting the Christmas shop out of the way as early as possible is one way to circumvent the stress of rushing around. Another is to try and complete it in small short bursts, visiting the shops when you know they aren’t going to be busy.
Christmas lunch is a meal we all look forward to, and it’s only natural that we let go of the reigns a little and consume more on this special occasion than we normally would.
Obesity is a condition on the rise in the UK, and overindulging on one meal obviously isn’t going to have that much of an impact on a person’s BMI. However, it’s easy for overeating to become a habit over the Christmas period, and it’s when a person continues this into the new year and beyond that diet-related disease becomes a risk.
It’s always going to be more manageable to be consistent with good eating habits than to go through the binge and detox cycle many adopt over the winter months. Try to stay on top of your calorie and sugar intake either side of Christmas Day, and make sure you eat as balanced a diet as possible.