You & Your Health: The 12 Pains of Christmas

‘Tis the season to be poorly as the drop in temperature brings with it a range of common winter ailments.

By keeping warm and well this winter, and visiting your local pharmacy for help, you can still enjoy the festive period without going into hibernation.

On the first day of Christmas my pharmacist gave to me…

Tissues to catch a cold into

When you have a cold, it may feel like you can’t remember the time when your nose wasn’t blocked or streaming but symptoms of this mild viral infection usually only last for a week or so.

There is no cure but you can self-help by eating fresh produce, taking supplements such as zinc, echinacea and vitamin C, and keeping hydrated. Washing your hands regularly and discarding used tissues can also help stop germs from spreading.

On the second day of Christmas, my pharmacist gave to me…

A flu jab to protect me through the winter

Cold’s bigger, meaner, tougher sibling, the flu shows similar symptoms to that of a cold but often more intense and include headache, fever and sore muscles.

Flu is more serious than a cold and anyone with a long-term health problem, seniors, and other vulnerable people such as pregnant women should be vaccinated before flu season hits. This is free on the NHS for people most susceptible or you can pay a small charge if not.

On the third day of Christmas, my pharmacist gave to me…

Lozenges to ease a sore throat

Like a cold, a sore throat is caused by a viral infection and so cannot be treated with antibiotics. There is no real need to seek medical advice but you can try over the counter remedies such as lozenges and throat sprays which may ease some symptoms. However, the most recommended way to ease inflammation is to gargle warm saltwater.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my pharmacist gave to me…

Vapour rub for itchy chilblains

Being outside in the cold temperatures can cause extremities such as toes, fingers and ears to develop small, red and itchy swellings called chilblains. This burning sensation is made worse when you heat up too quickly after periods in the cold weather.

People with poor circulation, Lupus or Raynaud’s disease are more susceptible. Wearing gloves and thick socks can help prevent them, as too can applying vapour rub to boost circulation but it shouldn’t be used on broken skin.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my pharmacist gave to me…

Emollient cream for my dry skin

Chronic skin conditions such as eczema can also flare up in winter due to the combination of cold temperatures, lack of sunlight, and dehydrating central heating.

Relieve dry, red, itchy or cracked skin by regularly applying a thick, non-scented moisturiser to seal in moisture. For severe or painful cases, a topical steroid such as hydrocortisone can be bought from your pharmacy.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my pharmacist gave to me…

Antihistamines to relieve allergies

Even if you don’t usually have allergies, if you have a real Christmas tree in the house you may find yourself with hay fever-like symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, watery eyes or a tight chest.

Mold that grows on the festive fir releases spores into the air which grow faster in the warm indoors; this can trigger attacks in people with asthma. Keep trees in cool, ventilated rooms and avoid touching them. An antihistamine will help relieve any symptoms.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my pharmacist gave to me…

Antacids to reduce indigestion

Overindulging on mince pies, chocolates, brandy sauce and a 3,000 calorie Christmas dinner is bound to wreak havoc on our poor stomachs. Excess acid used to digest all this food irritates the lining of the stomach and oesophagus which causes heartburn, nausea and chest pain.

Over the counter indigestion remedies can reduce discomfort but going for a walk after eating can also aid digestion.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my pharmacist gave to me…

Diarrhea meds to ease an upset tummy

Similarly, excess food equals mountains of leftovers which are often kept out of the fridge to graze over. However, this can be a breeding ground for bacteria and the Food Standards Agency reports December is the most common time for food poisoning.

Use any leftovers within 48 hours or freeze. Defrost the turkey in the fridge for 10-12 hours per kilo and never wash poultry as this spreads bacterium that would be killed during cooking.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my pharmacist gave to me…

Paracetamol to reduce the hangover sore head

‘Tis the season to be jolly but waking up with headache every day from too much booze is not so fun. Alcohol is a diuretic so removes fluids from the body, resulting in you being dehydrated which causes sickness, dizziness and headache.

To prevent a hangover, drink plenty of water before bed and in between drinks to keep your hydration up. Painkillers will help ease a banging head the morning after.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my pharmacist gave to me…

Suncream for walks in the winter sun

Christmas brings with it a sense of cabin fever and you may want to break out of the monotony by getting outdoors. But beware the winter sun. Wear SPF all year round.

Shorter daylight hours also reduces serotonin levels leading to feelings of depression, irritability and lethargy, otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder which affects one in 50. Going outdoors in the day may help improve your mood, appetite and sleep.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my pharmacist gave to me…

A blood pressure check to reduce the risk of heart attacks

You may not think it, but heart attacks are more likely to occur in the winter months as colder temperatures your body works harder to stay warm, increasing blood pressure and putting a strain on your heart.

Keep an eye on your blood pressure levels but also aim to stay warm by making sure your home temperature is at least 18 degrees. An electric blanket or hot water bottle can also help.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my pharmacist gave to me…

Rehydration salts after a bout of norovirus

Try as hard as you might, sometimes there is just no escaping winter ailments. But the one you really want to avoid is the winter vomiting bug, norovirus. It is highly contagious and causes severe sickness and diarrhea lasting two to three days, leaving you lethargic and exhausted.

You may not be able to eat much but it is important to remain hydrated by taking in clear fluids.