It’s no coincidence that more people get ill over the holiday period than any other time of year. Parties, late nights, bad weather, over-indulgence in food and drink, not to mention concerns about the bank balance, all take their toll on our bodies. To ease you into the festivities we’ve compiled a list of 12 common ailments you’re more likely to pick up, along with some ideas on how to prevent them, so you can hopefully enjoy a germ-free Christmas or holiday season.
1. The Common Cold
This is the last thing you need, especially if you’re the one responsible for peeling the spuds and stuffing the turkey. Despite its name suggesting the common cold’s prevalence, we still don’t really understand a lot about the common cold, which is why we’ve yet to come up with a cure for this winter menace. In essence a mild viral infection, it can cause anything from a runny nose, cough or sore throat to full blown sinus infection. Medication wise, your best option is Paracetamol and lots of fluid (the watery sort rather than the alcoholic), and the illness will usually end within a week or so. A regular supply of fresh tissues and keeping your hands clean will help prevent the bug spreading too far.
2. The Flu
The big brother to the common cold and something to avoid if you want to enjoy your Christmas. If you’re not sure whether you have a cold or the flu, we’ve blogged on the very subject, so take a look there, but generally, the flu will have similar symptoms to the common cold, but they will be more intense. While a bout of flu will usually affect the fit and healthy for no more than a week, flu can be very dangerous to the elderly and infirm, so make sure elderly relatives have had their flu vaccine. Flu symptoms, which include fever, cough, headache, aching limbs and muscles, sore throat and loss of appetite, usually peak on or around the third day. Get plenty of rest on which your body will insist, and increase your water intake to help your body cope with the infection. Stay on the lookout for more serious offshoots such as chest infections, which can go on to develop into pneumonia.
3. Christmas Tree Syndrome
No, this isn’t a reaction to all things Christmassy, but a very real allergy which can afflict even those who don’t normally suffer from allergies or hayfever. The symptoms, which include a runny nose, watering eyes, coughing and even asthma attacks in those predisposed to asthma, are thought to be caused by the mould that sits on the Christmas Tree and thrives in the nice, warm environment of your living room. Like most other allergies, treat sufferers with antihistamines and perhaps next year opt for the artificial version!
Chilblains are small, itchy swellings which affect the body’s extremities, namely toes, fingers, ears etc and are caused by damp, cold temperatures. Typically they cause a burning sensation and the affected skin can turn red or even blue. The best prevention is not letting your hands and feet get cold in the first place. If you think you’re susceptible to chilblains, warm up your gloves and shoes before venturing outside. Equally importantly, don’t rush to the radiator when you’re cold, as heating skin up too quickly is one of the main causes of chilblains. Slow immersion into warm water, or placing hands into a warm towel, are best. You can also treat them with a soothing lotion such as Calamine to relieve the itching, and if you notice signs of infection (swelling and pus forming) then seek medical advice. Those particularly susceptible are people with poor circulation, those with regular exposure to damp, cold conditions, and sufferers of Raynaud’s Disease and Lupus.
5. Dry Skin and Eczema
Those who are afflicted by this common and often chronic skin condition may experience flare-ups during winter months, as this is another condition exacerbated by sudden changes in temperature. Going from a raw, cold wind to a centrally heated house can bring on an attack of atopic dermatitis, commonly known as eczema, which causes the skin to become red, itchy, very dry and cracked. If you think you’ve just got a case of ultra dry skin, try applying a thick, non-scented moisturizing cream. If you suspect eczema, however, place symptoms into Isabel Symptom Checker and visit your doctor to discuss alternative treatments, as there are many specialist creams which could help with symptoms.
Seasonal Affective Disorder has only recently been recognized as a genuine condition, characterized by ongoing feelings of depression during the winter months, irritability, lethargy and a craving for carbs, which in turn helps you put on weight. Levels of serotonin, which affect our moods, appetite and sleep, are thought to be lowered by the shorter sunlight hours, and this stops the hypothalamus, the part of our brain which affects our moods, from working properly. While a trip to the Caribbean might sound like the obvious remedy, cheaper treatments are on hand. Make a point of getting as much natural sunlight as you can. If this isn’t possible, light therapy boxes can simulate exposure to sunlight and help raise seretonin levels, and if you’re feeling really low, don’t hesitate to see your doctor who might be able to prescribe an antidepressant medication or therapy treatments.
7. Alcohol Poisoning
“‘Tis the season to be jolly,” but preferably not so jolly that every morning starts with a splitting headache. Alcohol is a diuretic meaning it removes fluids from your body, and it is this dehydration which causes those familiar feelings of sickness, room-spinning dizziness and bad headaches following a night of drinking, commonly known as the hangover. While we’re not suggesting becoming a party pooper if you want to enjoy a drink or two, it’s worth remembering that your poor liver can only filter out around one unit of alcohol every hour. This means the quicker you glug down the booze, the harder it is for your body to cope and process the alcohol. If large quantities of alcohol are the order of the evening, then at the very least alternate each glass with a glass of water, try not to drink on an empty stomach, and always try to finish a pint of water before bed.
The holidays aren’t the holidays without an overload of food, be that mince pies, Christmas pudding, brandy butter or mountains of chocolate, which are all things we probably wouldn’t have at any other time of year. So it’s hardly surprising that the poor stomach will complain every so often with the odd bout of indigestion. Also known as Dyspepsia, indigestion can cause heartburn, nausea and discomfort or even pain in your chest shortly after eating. Indigestion is caused by stomach acids which can irritate the stomach lining or oesophagus. After a big meal, or seconds of turkey and all the trimmings, your stomach can stretch, which brings on acid reflux or heartburn. Over-the-counter remedies can relieve the pain, but if you’re getting regular bouts or experiencing other symptoms such as loss of weight, persistent vomiting, difficulty swallowing or blood in your vomit or stool, see a doctor.
9. Ear Infection
While the cold weather isn’t necessarily the cause of ear infections over winter, the cold air certainly doesn’t help once you’ve got one, so good headgear is essential. Most ear infections occur when an infection such as a cold leads to a build-up of mucus in the middle ear. Typical symptoms include earache, fever, vomiting, lethargy and occasionally slight hearing loss. Most ear infections clear up within 3 to 5 days but antibiotics may be needed if the symptoms persist or are particularly bad.
Of all the holiday ailments, this is the one you really want to avoid passing around. Also known as the winter vomiting bug, norovirus is highly contagious, causing severe vomiting and diarrhea. While this shouldn’t last more than 2-3 days, it can leave you feeling lethargic and exhausted so keep up your fluid intake and take paracetamol to sooth the aches and pains. Prevention is most definitely better than cure in this instance so wash your hands frequently if any family members are suffering and avoid any gatherings under the mistletoe!
11. Sore Throat
Just as annoying as the common cold, and a lot more painful, sore throats are nearly always the result of a viral infection which means antibiotics won’t be of any use. There is usually no need to seek medical help, unless you are getting them very regularly and are taking a long time to recover, which may imply a weakened immune system. One of the easiest home remedies is to gargle warm salty water and take paracetamol to help relieve the pain. Over the counter medications such as throat lozenges will not cure the illness, but they can help with painful symptoms and often taste great so they make the sore throat bearable. They are often extremely high in sugar content though, so be careful not to over indulge!
12. Frostbite and Hypothermia
Cases of frostbite and hypothermia are rare in the UK, and a large majority of the US as well, although many places do get cold winters. Frostbite is caused by exposing skin to temperatures below freezing for a length of time. The symptoms begin with affected parts (usually the extremities: hands, feet, ears, nose and lips) feeling cold and painful. This gradually turns into pins and needles as the area becomes numb. Once numb, this is an early sign that first degree frostbite may be taking hold. Taking the person affected into a warm environment as quickly as possible will limit the effects of the injury and progression into second, third and fourth degree frostbite. Ideally you should seek medical advice at this early point, as the frostbitten area should be warmed up by a healthcare professional, usually by immersion in warm water. This process can be very painful so make sure the patient has pain killers at hand. Speedy action is always essential as if left too long, severe cases can lead to gangrene and, at worst, amputation.
On that happy note, perhaps it’s tempting to head off to warmer climes to avoid all these holiday nasties, in which case, don’t forget your malaria pills!
If you’re concerned about any symptoms either you or someone close to you is experiencing, enter the symptoms into the Isabel Symptom Checker and, if you’re concerned, discuss the results with a healthcare professional.