How to Treat Common Christmas Ailments at Home

Here's what you can do at home if you fall unexpectedly ill during the holidays...

For most people, the festive season will be filled with fun and festivities with friends and family. But for an unfortunate few, symptoms will strike, from cold and flu to food poisoning, or more concerning issues such as chest pain.

With a number of NHS surgeries closed or running a reduced service over the Christmas holidays it can be difficult to know what to do in a medical emergency - and tempting to head for A&E at the first sign of ill health.

Dr Ravi Tomar, GP at Portland Medical Centre and Clinical Lead for the implementation of DoctorLink, explains what you can do at home for the most common health complaints and when to head to A&E if you fall ill over the festive season:

Food Poisoning at Christmas

Food poisoning can be caused by any number of bacteria, but the main culprits are campylobacter, salmonella and e.coil, all of which can be found in undercooked meat or unpasteurised dairy.

For many, their Christmas turkey or goose will be the only time all year that they roast a bird of that size - so food poisoning is sadly not uncommon over the holidays.

The main symptoms of food poisoning are:

  • Feeling sick
  • Vomiting, diarrhoea or both
  • Stomach cramps
  • Loss of appetite
  • A high temperature
  • Lack of energy. aching muscles and weakness

Symptoms usually start a day or so after eating contaminated food, although it can begin within a few hours.

Most people with food poisoning can safely look after themselves at home and don't need treatment. It's best to drink plenty of water, to avoid becoming dehydrated, and to eat small, bland meals when you feel up for it.

If you're pregnant, over 60, have a long-term health condition or weak immune system, seek medical advice.

For more vulnerable people, such as the elderly or those with anothe rhealth condition, oral rehydration solutions are recommended. You can pick these up from you local pharmacy without a prescription.

If you're pregnant, over 60, have long-term health condition or weak immune systme, it's best to seek medical advice. When your GP surgery is closed, you should use your GP's symptom assessment platform if they have one, or callĀ 111 for advice before heading to out-of-hours services.

Coughs, colds and flu over Christmas

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a run-of-the-mill cold and a case of the flu. The main differences between cold and flu are the rate of symptoms, such as chills, aches, fever and headaches, which are more likely and more pronounced in flu.

However, heading for your GP or A&E when you have the flu can cause the disease to spread more quickly. This can put vulnerable people at risk, including young children, older adults and those with long-term conditions or compromised immune systems, as the virus affects them much more severely, so consider calling in advance.

Chest pain over Christmas

Always call 999 if you experience any of the following symtpoms:

  • Sudden chest pain that spreads to your arms, back, neck or jaw
  • Pain that makes your chest feel tight
  • Pain that comes with shortness of breath, sweating and feeling sick
  • Pain that lasts more than 15 minutes

Indigestion over Christmas

Eating lots of rich food over Christmas can lead to heartburn or indigestion and both conditions can cause chest pain that starts after eating. Over-the-counter remedies from your local pharmacy can be helpful for managing symptoms of these conditions, but prevention is really the best cure. Throughout festivities, try to eat smaller, more frequent meals and avoid excessive alcohol consumption if you know you're prone to heartburn or indigestion.

Eat smaller, more frequent meals and avoid excessive alcohol if you know you're prone to heartburn or indigestion.

However, it's best not to self-diagnose chest pain - there are lots of different causes and your GP can ensure its nothing serious.

When practices are closed over the holidays, use your GP's symptom assessment platform if they have one or read where to go if you're suddenly unwell over the Christmas holidays.

Alternatively call NHS 111, who will be able to assess whether your symptoms need urgent assessment and guide you to a local service if so, or help you find a GP appointment after the holidays if not.

Minor accident or injury at Christmas

Cuts, burns and scalds can all be commonplace during the cooking and carving of a Christmas dinner.

Cuts and grazes

For cuts and grazes, many such injuries can be treated at home. Stopping the bleeding, cleaning the wound and covering it with a plaster or dressing may be all that is needed - but it's important to ensure you have a well-stocked first aid kit ready at home.

Always go to A&E if the following occurs:

  • Bleeding is very heavy and can't be controlled
  • Bleeding is spurting - this is a sign you may be bleeding from an artery
  • You experience loss of sensation near the wound
  • You have a severe cut to the face
  • You believe the wound may be infected or have a foreign body inside
  • The wound is very large
Burns and scalds

First aid is also key to limiting the damage of any burns or scalds. You should stop the burning as soon as possible and cool the burn with cool running water, uninterrupted for 10 to 15 minutes, as soon as possbile after the injury. Many people stop running water over burns and scalds much too soon, but the timeframe is key to minimise the damage and reduce scarring.

If the burn is large, deep, causes white or charred skin or blisters, you should go straight to A&E. This is also the case with any chemical, or electric burns, or any burn to a young child or older adult.

Shock symtpoms

For any type of accident or injury, you should watch out for signs of shock. If you notice these shock symptoms, head for A&E for urgent assessment and care. Signs of shock include:

  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Sweating
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Weakness or dizziness