How to avoid getting ill this Christmas

Bonding with young relatives can allow cold and flu viruses to spread. (Getty)

Christmas is a time of celebration for many.

For one day, we have free rein to enjoy countless mince pies and perhaps one too many mulled wines.

READ MORE: The health pros – and cons – of Christmas lunch

While it may be fun, overindulging could leave you bloated – and battling a nasty hangover.

Bonding with young relatives also makes you vulnerable to colds and flu, while feasting on turkey – the centrepiece of many people’s Christmas lunch – could be disastrous if the bird is undercooked.

Colds and flu

These highly contagious viruses mainly spread via droplets sneezed or coughed into the air.

While colds are rarely serious, they can leave you feeling tired and achey.

The virus lingers on hard surfaces for up to two days and in fabric, like tissues, for eight hours, Yahoo UK previously reported.

Although it is tricky to avoid, washing your hands regularly with soap and water could ward off the infection, the NHS recommends.

Flu is more severe, with sufferers enduring fever, a loss of appetite and sometimes vomiting.

Ideally, people should get immunised before flu season starts, usually the end of October in the UK and US, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

READ MORE: Can 'old wives' tales' really help fight colds?

With flu season typically peaking around January or February, it is not too late to get the jab.

“You should consider getting the flu jab, whether you’re in a high-risk group or not,” said Dr Daniel Atkinson

The NHS offers a free vaccine to people over 65, pregnant women, young children and people with other health conditions.

A nurse prepares to give a patient a flu vaccine. (PA)

Antibacterial gels are relatively useless against viruses, with only rigorous hand-washing doing the job.

Lazying in your pyjamas watching Christmas films may be tempting, but try not to give up your health regimen entirely.

“If your immune system is in good condition, your chances of picking up illnesses should be lower,” Dr Atkinson said.

“Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly.”


The average Briton puts away nearly 6,000 calories on 25 December, The Independent reported. That’s three times the NHS’s daily recommendation for women.

“While Christmas dinner can be balanced, as we pile on the vegetables to our plates, we can eat quickly, which causes bloating,” Dr Atkinson said.

“Eating too fast means you take in more air and gases collect in your digestive system.”

For your own sake, try to exercise some caution this year.

Overindulging at Christmas lunch can lead to bloating - and hangovers. [Photo: Getty]

READ MORE: Why you should never sleep with the heating on

“Choose smaller amounts of food – for example, limit how many potatoes you have with your Christmas dinner,” said Dr Diana Gall from Doctor 4 U.

“This means you still get to enjoy the food without feeling unwell afterwards.

“It may also help to use a smaller plate, as many people tend to finish all the food on their plate even if they’re satisfied.”

If you do overindulge, Dr Gall suggests Wind-eze to combat bloating or Buscopan for IBS. Over-the counter antacids may also relieve heartburn, she said.


Whether it’s mulled wine, a festive cocktail or boozy hot chocolate, it’s easy to forget your units over Christmas.

“The average person will drink 26 units of alcohol, almost twice as many as the recommended weekly amount,” Dr Atkinson said.

All alcohol damages the body, but some drinks go down more easily than others.

Christmas food and drink being prepared and served at at Bush Hall in London.

“Try to avoid spirits like vodka and gin that are typically paired with sugary, carbonated drinks to make them easier to consume,” Dr Atkinson said.

It may not be what you want to hear, but pacing yourself is key to avoid a dreadful hangover.

READ MORE: Beware of cold sores under the mistletoe this Christmas

“Your liver can detoxify one alcohol unit per hour, so take your time with your drinks,” Dr Atkinson said.

Alcohol is dehydrating, which triggers a hangover. While few people will likely alternate between water and wine, keep some water by your bed.

“Drink a glass of water before you nod off and keep some nearby,” Dr Atkinson said.

Food, both before and after a drinking session, is equally important.

“Eating before drinking can slow the absorption of alcohol in the bloodstream, which will reduce the effects the next day,” said Dr Daniel Cichi from iMeds.

“Eating the day after helps regulate your blood sugar levels to help you feel better.”

Food poisoning

Like chicken, turkey can carry the bacteria salmonella, which is only killed via thorough cooking.

“Symptoms often begin within one-to-two days of eating contaminated food, so if your turkey is undercooked on Christmas Day, you’ll likely know about it by Boxing Day,” Dr Gall said.

Signs include vomiting and diarrhoea, alongside a high temperature, cramps and fatigue.

Most people recover in a few days with rest and plenty of fluids, according to the NHS.

“You may find it helps to use oral rehydration sachets such as Dioralyte,” Dr Gall said. “It’s a good idea to have this in your medicine cabinet just in case.”

Call NHS 111 if a baby seems out of sorts or refuses to feed. Bloody diarrhoea, passing blood or signs of dehydration – like an infant not producing wet nappies – should also raise alarm bells.