The countdown seems to start earlier each year and we spend an absolute fortune on gifts, so there’s nothing worse than a Christmas health crisis striking just as the festivities begin! We’ve put together our very own most-dreaded health emergencies that crop up at this time of year - plus tips on how to cope with them!
- Don’t be a turkey!
The last thing you want to give your guests for Christmas is food poisoning, but turkeys can be troublesome if you don’t plan well. Stuart McCarthy-Thompson of safety experts RT Safety Training says: “If possible, buy a fresh raw turkey to avoid having to defrost it and store it below all other items in the fridge. If you do buy frozen, don’t leave it too late to defrost - a 12kg turkey can take more than two days to defrost! Ideally, turkeys should be defrosted in the fridge or, if very heavy, in a cool room.
“Always preheat your oven before cooking. Remove any giblets and avoid putting stuffing inside the turkey, as this can prevent the heat going to the core, although placing stuffing in the neck is fine. British Turkey has a useful cooking calculator if cooking instructions aren’t given, although it’s still very important to check that the turkey is cooked as ovens and cooking times vary.
“Inspect the thickest parts of the meat, such as the thigh. A properly cooked turkey will show clear meat juices and no pink meat, and will be piping hot with lots of steam. If you use a probe thermometer, the temperature should read a minimum of 75°C at the thickest parts.”
- Not to be sneezed at
Didn’t get our memo about the flu jab? You can still take steps to avoid getting the flu or a heavy cold by washing your hands thoroughly at home and work or carrying anti-bacterial hand gel everywhere you go. It’s thought that colds and flu are transmitted when respiratory droplets land near your mouth or nose and are inhaled, so, in public, avoid sitting near people who are clearly coughing and sneezing or wrap a scarf around the lower part of your face. Don’t rub your your eyes or nose (wearing gloves can help stop you doing this!).
If someone in your family does catch a nasty bout of flu, all you can do is double your hygiene efforts with extra hand washing and surface cleaning, and making sure every member of the household uses separate towels and flannels. Stock up beforehand with supplies of tissues, paracetamol and soothing drinks and see it as a good excuse to catch up with all that festive telly. Dare we say it… for some stressed parents, a few days in bed dosed up with brandy might start looking quite attractive by the end of Boxing Day!
- Keep an eye on kids
Do remember that young children and babies can’t tell you how they feel and signs of serious illness can go unnoticed in the bustle of Christmas, particularly when children can appear flushed with excitement or in a hot, busy home. A high temperature can be common and usually goes away on its own, but the NHS advises getting in touch with your GP or out of hours health service urgently if your child is under three months old and has a temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above, or is between three and six months old and has a temperature of 39C (102.2F) or above.
Seek advice urgently also if your child has persistent vomiting, isn’t eating or is floppy, drowsy or inattentive. Otherwise, give children and babies plenty to drink, even if they are not thirsty, use children's paracetamol or ibuprofen to help reduce the fever and monitor their temperature regularly.
- Brewing up trouble
We’ve all been there; overindulging at the office party or having one more ‘sociable’ drink than planned on Christmas Eve! According to DrinkAware, a hangover not only involves the usual headache and nausea but it also leaves you dehydrated, so it’s important to drink as much fluid as you can to restore the balance. Water is good, while fresh juice also gives a much-needed vitamin boost. An antacid can help settle an upset stomach, while rehydration sachets replace lost minerals and salt.
Try to eat something - even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing! Bananas and kiwis are good sources of potassium, which you lose when you drink alcohol because of its diuretic effect, and avoid hair of the dog – it only delays the problem. DrinkAware has lots more information on taking a break from alcohol and what to do if you’re concerned someone close to you is drinking too much.
- Mind how you go
It’s supposedly the most wonderful time of the year but, when you’re experiencing low mood, anxiety or depression, Christmas can be anything but. Breaking things down into manageable steps can prevent you becoming overwhelmed, as can making a list of all the things you ‘must’ do and those you could do if you have time.
“Be mindful and focus on what’s happening now,” says counsellor Lynette Evans. “We find ourselves so busy rushing and planning what we are going to be doing and where we need to be next that we forget to connect with the present and how we’re feeling. Learn how to say ‘no’ to things you don’t want to do; there are nice ways to say it, such as explaining why you can’t or suggesting an alternative. And switch off those phones and stop checking social media - focus on enjoying yourself, rather than portraying an image of you enjoying yourself!”
If the pressure really does get too much over the festive break, people are at hand to help, including Mind’s Support at Christmas, the Samaritans, ChildLine, Age UK and your local social services and out of hours GP.
- Sick to the back teeth
A dental emergency over Christmas can be, quite literally, a real pain! Be prepared by finding out from your dentist in advance if they are part of an emergency rota, and make a note of the number. Should you call your surgery when it’s closed, you’ll probably hear a message with out of hours details as well.
You can also get advice by calling NHS Direct. Don’t phone your GP surgery as they won’t be able to help. If you do access emergency dental treatment over Christmas, there’s likely to be a charge, but if you receive free NHS treatment you should be able to claim this back. If you’re suffering from excessive bleeding in your mouth or have a facial injury, go to A&E.
- Home safe home
We like to think we’re safe behind the security of our own front door but, according to RoSPA, more accidents happen in the home than anywhere else. And children are particularly at risk, with under-fives and people over 65 more likely than other age groups to have an accident in the home that results in them going to hospital.
Christmas brings its own particular risks, from children choking on small parts of new toys or the batteries in them, tripping over or falling downstairs wearing novelty slippers and potential hazards caused by Christmas trees (according to the Government’s Fire Kills Campaign, a Christmas tree fire can destroy a living room in less than a minute). If you have old Christmas lights, this could be the year to replace them, making sure the new ones have the BS Kitemark safety mark and are bought from a reputable store. Never leave fairy lights on when you leave the house or go to bed, and tuck away trailing cables.
- Everybody needs good neighbours
Age UK figures show that more than one million people in England alone are lonely and that, for many, Christmas is just another day. If you’re facing the prospect of not speaking to or seeing a single person at Christmas, call Age UK’s free advice line on 0800 055 6112, between 8am and 7pm 365 days a year.
If you’re spending December 25 with family and friends, could you invite an older or a single neighbour around for Christmas lunch, or pop round with a plate of food at teatime? Age UK is always in need of volunteers to man its telephone befriending service, which offers regular contact to people who are on their own, and you could also consider giving your time at Christmas to a local lunch club.