#childsafety | The 12 health hazards of Christmas you must watch out for


IT might be ‘Ho ho’ for some, but for a frighteningly large number of us, the festive period spells ‘oh no’ on the health front.

As well as the Omicron variant and it being the peak period of colds, flu, and hangovers, there’s also a range of less obvious dangers you need to watch out for to avoid spending your holiday in hospital.

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Too much alcohol – especially when combined with difficult family members – can prove hazardousCredit: Getty – Contributor

In fact, December has historically – in pre-Covid times – been the busiest time in A&E departments up and down the country, with many NHS trusts urging people to only go to hospital in the case of emergencies.

On average, more than 6,000 people will end up in hospital on Christmas Day itself and by the time Twelfth Night arrives, more than 80,000 people will have been taken for treatment in Britain’s A&E departments, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

From overeating and stress-inducing family reunions, to all manner of accidents just waiting to happen, spot it coming so you can enter 2022 recharged, relaxed and in fighting form…

1. BOSSY RELATIVES

When your in-laws start casting a critical eye over your Christmas preparations, use a psychological technique called ‘deflection’, suggests stress expert and life coach Gladeana McMahon.

“So, if [someone] has a go because you’ve used gravy granules instead of making your own, simply agree,” she says.

“Nod your head, smile and say, ‘Yes, making my own might have tasted better’.

Then turn away as if they hadn’t spoken.

It’s a polite and sophisticated way of saying ‘bog off’ and makes them feel like they’ve had their say to avoid arguments.” 

2. BOOZY GUESTS

Alcohol combined with the noise and chaos of Christmas are a potentially lethal mix, so if you’re concerned about one of your guests overdoing it on the sherry, take charge.

You can’t control your family, but you can change how you respond, says Mike Guttridge, a psychologist and stress management consultant.

“If a family member always has too much to drink and starts a fight, all you can do is decide if you’re prepared to accept it.

“Early in the day, say, ‘I love you, I want you here, but I’m worried.’

“Make it clear that if they start niggling, they have to leave, and if they don’t, you will!

“That shock can make people realise their bad behaviour won’t be tolerated, avoiding fights and accidents.”

3. CHAOTIC KIDS

It’s no surprise that almost two thirds of Christmas accidents involve children, wired on a mixture of present-induced excitement, fatigue and chocolate.

“Fresh air is the best thing, so send them off to a local park,” says McMahon.

“Some time outside will help them burn off some of the sugary treats they’ll have consumed, stabilising their blood levels for reduced mood swings.

Children can only take in so much fun at once, so stagger present opening throughout the day, she says.

“It may sound cruel, but it makes them savour each one, which helps calm them down, as well as giving you a bargaining tool to keep them well-behaved and less accident-prone later on,” she says. 

4. STRESS

According to a recent survey by Rescue Remedy, a quarter of us find Christmas more stressful than getting married, with cooking Christmas dinner topping the list.

So when you feel yourself getting panicky at the thought, lock yourself in the bathroom and try this exercise, advises Gutteridge.

Lie on the floor with your hands resting on the bottom of your rib cage.

Breathe in deeply for three seconds, moving your hands up and down as your lungs fill and empty.

Take 10-12 deep breaths and feel the air coursing through your body.

“It gets lots of oxygen to the brain to make you mentally alert, and it gives you time to reassess your priorities away from all the noise,” Gutteridge says.

While you’re at it, pop some lactium tablets. “Lactium’s a special form of milk protein that works on neuroreceptors in the brain to naturally relax you,” says Boots pharmacist Angela Chalmers.

🔵 Read our Christmas 2021 live blog for the latest news and updates

5. TOYS

More than 35,000 children under 15 go to A&E after an accident involving a toy each year, The Children’s Foundation charity says, leaving more than discarded packaging for parents to deal with on the big day.

“Always get age-appropriate toys from a reputable manufacturer, and check for the European Standard CE or the British Lion Mark to make sure they’ve been tested to the highest standards of safety and quality,” says Carole Hewison, project director of its Whoops! Child Safety project.

“Discard all plastic wrapping immediately, and at the first sign of any damage to the toy, put it well out of reach – breaks often expose sharp edges and show it might even be counterfeit.”

For more on toy safety, visit the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents at www.rospa.com

6. INDIGESTION

Packing in over 5,000 calories each on Christmas Day, no wonder so many of us need a lie down to settle our stomachs.

Regular antacids might work in the short-term, but can lead to ‘rebound’ acid reflux where your stomach senses there’s less acid so simply produces more, says Dr Kevin Whelan, nutritional scientist at King’s College, London.

Instead, take Gaviscon Dual Action Liquid. “It creates a ‘raft’ on top of your stomach’s contents to stop it coming back up,” he explains.

7. CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

Nobody needs an electric shock to light-up their Christmas.

First, never use electric lights on a fake metallic tree, which can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, causing unsuspecting passers-by to get a nasty surprise when they reach for a present.

Never leave lights on overnight, and before using lights outside, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use.

And string lights through laminated hooks or insulated staples, not nails or tacks.

8. TREES

These seemingly immobile pines and firs should be regarded as nothing less than a serious menaca, accounting for more than 1,000 injuries alone each year.

Their eye-poking branches and comely invitation to decorate causes tumbles off chairs and ladders, adding up to 350 injured people each year.

And keep any pets under control – around half of Britain’s dogs are involved in Christmas-related accidents, with knocking over trees accounting for 32% of canine Christmas upsets – while dogs stuffing their faces with Christmas decorations total 19% of the mishaps.

And a candle-decked tree in a Victorian household looks wonderful on a Christmas card, but keep that image confined to cards to avoid transforming your home into an enormous flaming Christmas pudding.

9. BURNS

Between trying to blowtorch our Christmas puds and the risk of juggling multiple boiling-hot saucepans, if you avoid burns over Christmas you’re in the lucky minority.

Take it easy on the brandy you ladle on your pudding, and if you do suffer a burn, don’t put butter on it.

“Putting butter or margarine on a burn causes more problems than it solves,” says Joe Mulligan, a first aid specialist from the Red Cross.

“It does nothing to help the burn, can transfer bacteria into the area and once you get to casualty, it’ll have to be painfully scrubbed off.”

And don’t apply ice either, which can produce a cold burn on top of the hot one, he warns.

Instead, place the burned area under cold running water for 10 minutes to take the heat out of it, then wrap it in cling film to reduce the risk of infection.

This also helps reduce the discomfort from contact with the air. “As a general rule, we advise anyone with a burn larger than a 50p piece to head to A&E,” says Mulligan.

If you're not careful, festive accidents can amount to more than a few broken baubles3

If you’re not careful, festive accidents can amount to more than a few broken baublesCredit: Getty

10. FALLS

On top of the bumps and bruises from high-octane Christmas japes, when someone hits the floor it’s likely their nose might take a hit too.

“Don’t whatever you do pinch the nose and tilt the head back if there’s any bleeding,” says Mulligan.

“This will only encourage blood to flow down the back of the throat and possibly into the stomach, inducing vomiting.”

Instead, sit the injured person down, reassure them and pinch the tip rather than the hard bit of the nose, he advises.

Discourage them from coughing or swallowing until the bleeding stops.

“Place a bowl on the floor for the blood to drip into and any bleeding should stop naturally and quickly.”

If it’s just bad bruising, treat the area with a cold compress and witch hazel or arnica to bring out the bruising, and take some ibuprofen to relieve the pain.

If a joint’s swollen, use the RICE technique:

  • Rest: keep any weight or pressure off
  • Ice: apply an ice pack or bag of frozen veg
  • Compression: wrap a bandage tightly around it
  • Elevation: keep it raised (giving you the perfect excuse to catch some festive telly.)

11. FOOD PREP

Over 80 per cent of people mistakenly wash their turkeys before cooking, the Food Standards Agency says, increasing the risk of food poisoning as harmful bacteria can splash from raw meat onto work surfaces.

“It’s simply not possible to wash off the harmful bacteria – the only way to kill it is by cooking the bird thoroughly,” says microbiologist Dr Robert Lambkin-Williams.

Defrost your turkey in the fridge or at room temperature allowing one hour per 450g (1lb) and make sure it’s covered and doesn’t touch other food.

For further advice, visit www.food.gov.uk. After that, it’s kitchen wipes that are the single biggest harbour of bacteria and viruses, he says.

Nuke any bugs and save money on replacements by zapping them in the microwave on full power for two minutes, which will kill 99% of all living pathogens, according to Florida University research.

“And have separate plastic cutting boards for meat and veg – making sure to wash and clean knives before swapping from one to another too,” he says.

12. HANGOVERS

Spot it coming and you’re halfway there.

“Exercising before you drink will speed up your metabolism later in the evening, so you’ll process alcohol and toxins quicker,” says Professor Nick Heather, from the Centre for Alcohol and Drug Studies in Newcastle.

“A brisk 30-minute walk or cycle should do the trick,” he says.

Next, eat a wholemeal tuna sandwich washed down with a pint of semi-skimmed 30 minutes before you start drinking, Heather advises.

“The complex carbohydrates in the bread provide steady energy, tuna contains the liver booster taurine and protein to further stabilise energy levels, and the fat in the milk is the perfect stomach liner.”

If it’s too late, try the amino acid supplement N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), which the New Scientist magazine reports beats water and sports drinks as a hangover cure by boosting the body’s ability to deal with the hangover-causing free radicals produced by your body breaking down the booze.

Christmas lights can be a major danger if not rigged up correctly

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Christmas lights can be a major danger if not rigged up correctlyCredit: Getty



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