Ahhh, the festive log is burning merrily in the fire and Christmas is upon us in all its tinselly glory once again. It’s a time for festivities, merriment, joy, families, presents, the perennial box of Brazil Nuts, and overcooked brussel sprouts.
Yes, December’s a veritable winter wonderland of hearty good cheer and an inimitably warm glow.
It’s also the time for illnesses and ailments, some self-inflicted, others not. But the last thing you want amidst the festive madness of the Queen’s speech and sherry-infused squabbling aunties is to be feeling a bit peaky.
With our ultimate guide to Christmas ailments, you might not be able to dodge all of them, but at least you’ll know what to do if you become one of the afflicted.
1. Brewer’s Droop
Christmas is a time when it’s often difficult to hide one’s amorous propensities.
The kiss under the mistletoe, the resulting cuddle, the inevitable game of Hide the Sausage – it’s all part of the well-wrapped Crimbo package. But you don’t want to ruin those festive fumblings by over-doing it on the Advocaat, so be mindful of the amount you drink.
There’s nothing more embarrassing than preparing yourself for a sweaty session of ardent coitus only to discover Mr Wiggly won’t rise to the occasion.
Alcohol depresses the central nervous system – and that means it can be difficult, if not impossible, for men to get and maintain an erection. So avoid any festive flaccidity and the ignominious Brewer’s Droop and limit your alcohol intake. It might be the best Christmas present you and your partner get.
2. Stomach Upset
The inevitable overindulgence of Quality Streets and Christmas pudding means that you’re going to put your stomach through its paces over the Yuletide season.
Typical upset stomach symptoms include a bile taste in the mouth, stomach pains, ulcers, irregular bowel movements, and constipation. The pain can often be made worse by things such as coffee, fatty foods, onions, alcohol and chocolate – in other words, a few of Christmas’s favourite contenders.
There are a variety of medications available in the majority of supermarkets for these conditions. If in doubt, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
How often has that ‘one for the road’ resulted in a morning of splitting headaches, room-spinning dizziness, gag-inducing dehydration and vein-popping vomiting?
Alcohol is a diuretic – removing fluids from the body – that leads to dehydration, and this is what kick-starts a head-busting hangover.
The general recommendation is that men shouldn’t drink any more than three to four units (pint of beer is 2.3 units) of alcohol a day, women two to three (small glass of wine is 1.5 units). But it’s Christmas, the sausage rolls are flying and the real ales are flowing, so an over-indulgence is inevitable.
And while there are hangover tips, there aren’t any cures. However, here’s some sound advice to get you through: Don’t drink on an empty stomach, drink soft drinks between the alcoholic ones, and drink a pint or so of water before you go to bed.
4. Seasonal Flu
Even with granny’s perennially knitted festive jumpers, the drop in temperature means we’re more susceptible to those unpleasant winter chills, coughs and sneezes.
Flu can reveal itself in a number of guises, primarily fever, chesty cough, headache, tiredness, aching limbs and muscles, sore throat, runny or blocked nose, sneezing, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping. It can be a real Grinch over the festive hols.
Generally, flu symptoms peak after two to three days and you should feel better within five to eight. In most cases plenty of rest, drinking lots of water and keeping warm will get you on the road to recovery. More serious strains of flu, such as chest infections or pneumonia, will need to be treated with antibiotics, in which case you should consult your GP.
Yuletide season is a time that positively begs for gastronomic over-indulgence (step forward Christmas pud and mince pies) – but it can lead to a few unpleasant side effects.
Indigestion – also known as dyspepsia – is the discomfort or pain in your chest not long after you’ve been eating or drinking. It can also make you feel bloated, make you belch, cause heartburn and nausea.
Caused as a result of stomach acid coming into contact with the sensitive, protective lining of the digestive system, it’s a common problem that affects a lot of people but only occasionally and mildly.
Medications such as antacids usually remedy the problem, although if symptoms persist you should consult your pharmacist or GP.
6. Winter Headaches
Think of Christmas and you imagine nice, warm, cosy, fluffy things. But those chilly temperatures and meteorological dips mean you can also be struck by a splitting winter headache.
A winter headache is triggered primarily because of the change in temperature and weather, as well as being caused b the common cold. But they can also be caused by things such as red wine, MSG, coffee, cheese, and skipping meals.
Best way to beat – or even better, avoid – a winter headache is to eat healthily (plenty of fruit and veg, and protein such as chicken), get plenty of Vitamin D, sleep (fatigue is a headache trigger), stay hydrated, and get plenty of exercise.
7. Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D)
It might be depressing to some that come July of every year, the tinned fruit section of the supermarket has been squeezed to make way for an eye-poppingly premature assortment of cards and mince pies. However, Season Affective Disorder (SAD) is a serious problem that is thought to affect one in 50 people in the UK.
Also known as the ‘winter blues’, it’s a form of depression that affects people from September and November, then gradually lifts in early spring. Exact reasons for the condition aren’t entirely clear, although it’s thought to be linked to the prevalent lack of sunlight through the season, which affects mood-related chemicals in the brain.
Treatments include cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressants, and light therapy is thought to have a short-term effect.
8. Dry Skin & Eczema
A common complaint during the shivery months, dry skin is also uncomfortable and irritating. Eczema is another skin condition that’s linked to having an allergic reaction, and can be exacerbated by heat, cold, dryness, wetness or harsh wind – conditions of extremes we put our bodies through after spending hours in the freezing cold, to then warm up in front the fire.
Moisturising cream – the thicker the better – applied several times a day is always a reliable solution to the problem of dry skin, and non-perfumed, unscented creams are less likely to irritate the skin.
The painful red, itchy lumps of chilblains and its equally irritating cousin, Raynaud’s disease, are common winter conditions. They’re also a Christmas present you definitely don’t want.
Most people know that the conditions are linked to getting cold and try to prevent it by putting their hands on the radiator after they’ve been outside – but it’s too late by then.
The key is to avoid getting cold in the first place – precipitously warming yourself up when you’re already frozen to the marrow only makes things worse. A good, thick pair of gloves and socks will keep you nice and toasty and keep the chilblains at bay.
When it comes to thoroughly unpleasant winter bugs, Norovirus – also known as the winter vomiting bug – is the reigning champion. It is the most common ailment in the UK, affecting between 600,000 to 1 million people every year.
Highly contagious and affecting people of all ages, it causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea. The incubation period is usually 12-48 hours but it shouldn’t last more than a couple of days.
And while there’s no specific cure – meaning you have to let its unpleasantness work its way through your system – there are a few things you can do to ease the symptoms These include: drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated, taking paracetamol for the aches and pains, washing your hands frequently with soap and water, not sharing towels or flannels, and disinfecting surfaces/objects that could be infected.
11. Common Cold
Amidst the familial madness of the drunken uncle, the flatulent granny, and tantrum-throwing teen, the last thing you need is the gruelling inconvenience of a common cold.
Essentially, it’s a mild viral infection of the nose, throat and sinuses that causes a runny nose, sneezing, a cough and sore throat. In adults, it lasts for about a week and in children about two weeks. If you’re particularly unlucky, you can be afflicted with a series of colds of various strengths.
Symptoms can usually be relieved by taking over-the-counter medication such as Paracetamol, and drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. And you can prevent germs from spreading by washing your hands regularly, sneezing and coughing into tissues, cleaning surfaces, and using your own crockery.
If symptoms persist for more than three weeks, however, consult your pharmacist or GP.
12. Christmas Tree Syndrome
Amidst the menagerie of relatively new, modern day ailments and illnesses (ADHD, Global Attention Disorder), you might be forgiven for thinking Christmas Tree Syndrome was as fictional as Santa Claus (I didn’t just ruin it for you, did I?). Well, you’d be wrong.
The condition is caused by breathing in the mould and spores growing on the Christmas tree, which causes an itchy nose, watery eyes, shortness of breath, coughing, chest pains, fatigue, and problems sleeping.
And the best way to rid yourself of this pine-based affliction? Doctors have recommended you first hose down your tree in the garden and let it dry out before you prop it up alongside the rest of the Christmas decorations – and then swiftly dispose of it after Christmas Day.
That plastic alternative doesn’t seem such a bad idea now, does it?