Dr Jyotika Kohli, Private GP talks about the 12 common illnesses of Christmas
As featured in West Essex Life Magazine, Dr Jyotika Kohli, Private GP at The Holly Private Hospital talks about the 12 common illnesses of Christmas and how to avoid them.
1. Colds and Flu
The cold weather can play havoc with your immune system so keeping yourself warm is essential, especially for the very young, older people and those with a chronic illness. If you’re asthmatic you need to take extra care.
Resist the temptation to turn the heating up above 22C as this can dry out the nasal mucous that prevents viruses from entering the body (18 – 21C is ideal).
Eat fresh fruit and vegetables and take Echinacea, zinc and a Vitamin C supplement.
The best way to avoid a cold is to wash hands frequently to get rid of germs and avoid close contact with people who are ill. If you have a cold use disposal tissues rather than a handkerchief to avoid re-infecting your hands. Flu jabs are free on the NHS for vulnerable people or ask your doctor about paying for the flu vaccine. While it doesn’t protect against all strains it is still your best protection against flu.
2. Food poisoning
Raw and under cooked meat particularly turkey and chicken is the major cause of salmonella food-poisoning at this time of the year. Make sure everything is cooked thoroughly and remember that overloading the oven can reduce over-all temperature and affect cooking times.
3. Alcohol poisoning
We’ve all been to the Christmas party where someone over indulges and gets a little too ‘merry’. But alcohol poisoning is nothing to joke about. Remember to pace yourself, even if everyone else isn’t and make sure you line your stomach by eating before and during the party. Drink a glass of water in between every alcoholic drink you have.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) also known as winter blues is thought to be caused by a lack of natural light affecting melatonin production. Try to spend as much time as possible outdoors during daylight hours, and eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg to keep Vitamin D levels healthy. Some people also benefit from light therapy. If it all becomes too much make sure you talk to someone, preferably a GP or counsellor.
Whether it’s spending time with the extended family, the pressures of gift giving, cooking, planning or decorating, Christmas can cause even the most laid back of us to feel stressed. Try planning ahead, get the Christmas shopping out of the way as early as possible, or even better avoid the shops altogether and shop online. And most importantly, remember to take some ‘me’ time.
6. Sore throat
Sore throats are mostly caused by viral infections although there is some evidence to suggest that changes in temperature, such as going from a warm room to icy outdoors can also affect the throat. Gargling warm salty water won’t heal the infection but the anti-inflammatory properties can have a soothing effect.
Winter can be a difficult time for people with asthma. Colds and the flu are a nightmare, cold and damp weather can increase your risk of asthma symptoms or an asthma attack, and might even find that your symptoms are triggered by Christmas trees or dusty decorations.
The best way to avoid cold weather triggering asthma symptoms is to manage your asthma well:
- carry your reliever inhaler with you at all times and keep taking your regular preventer inhaler as prescribed by your doctor
- get vaccinated against flu each year
- go for regular asthma reviews and check you are using your inhaler properly.
Norovirus causes projectile vomiting and diarrhoea. Alcohol hand gels don’t kill norovirus. Washing your hands frequently with soap and water is the best way to stop the dreaded winter vomiting bug from spreading. The best advice is to stay at home until you’re feeling better. There is no cure for this so you have to let it run its course. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Take paracetamol and get plenty of rest. Eat plain foods such as soup, rice, pasta and bread. Obviously if your symptoms fail to improve you should seek medical advice.
9. Cold sores
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. Once you have it, the virus stays in your skin for the rest of your life. Cold sores usually take around 10 days to heal and they’re very contagious, especially when the blisters burst.
If you regularly get cold sores, use antiviral creams as soon as you recognise the early tingling feeling. Cold sore patches can also protect the skin while it heals. You can buy electronic devices that treat cold sores with light or lasers. Some people find these helpful, but there haven’t been many studies to find out if they work.
10. Dry skin
Winter weather is a common cause of dry skin but if your skin is extremely dry you may wish to talk to your GP to investigate further. To avoid getting dry skin, use less hot water and soap, both of which can dehydrate your skin, and make sure you moisturise after showering or bathing. Always make sure you drink enough water.
11. Painful joints
Joint pain can occur at any time of the year but the cold and damp weather can make pain and symptoms from conditions like arthritis and Raynaud’s disease more noticeable. It’s important to stay active as this will keep your joints mobile and muscles strong which can reduce pain and help you maintain your independence. Don’t let cold weather put you off from normal activities – wrap up warm and wear layers in cold weather so you can take them off as necessary. Wear appropriate footwear to avoid slipping.
12. Heart attacks
Studies suggest that winter weather may be especially risky for your heart if you’ve already had a heart attack, have heart disease, or are older than 65. Cold weather can increase blood pressure and raise cholesterol levels—two key risk factors for heart attack. It can also make blood more likely to form heart-threatening clots. The best way to protect your heart is to stay warm and go easy on high-fat goodies and alcohol, which may also contribute to the spike in holiday heart attacks.
Dr Kohli has clinics at The Holly Private Hospital on Wednesday and Friday evenings. To make an appointment please call 020 8936 1201.