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Christmas tree syndrome (yes, really!)

…plus 11 other seasonal health problems and how to help prevent them

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Christmas tree syndrome

Ah, we all love a real Christmas tree: the lights, tinsel, baubles, scent and… allergy-inducing mould spores. Yes, sneezing, itchy eyes and a runny nose may be symptoms of an allergic reaction known as ‘Christmas tree syndrome’. If you think you could be affected, immunology expert Dr Lawrence Kurlandsky advises that you take a few precautions, such as hosing down the tree (really!), using an air purifier, or – *sad face* – opting for an artificial one.

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Jack Frost nipping at your toes
Itchy, burning, red bumps on your fingers, toes and ears after you’ve been out in the cold? Take a bow, chilblains. ‘If you’re prone to them, avoid heating your hands and feet quickly, such as on a radiator – the blood vessels near the surface of your skin can’t handle the increased blood flow,’ says Boots pharmacist Meera Shah. ‘Some medications can also make tiny blood vessels more narrow. Keep warm in the first place, and invest in good-quality gloves and socks.’ If you have severe or recurring chilblains, see your GP.

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The Rudolph effect

Yes, most of us battle three colds and two sore throats each winter. But you can help stop the lurgy. ‘Regularly clean surfaces, such as door handles and phones,’ says Meera. ‘And it’s important to wash your hands before touching your face or handling food, and after being on public transport or using gym equipment.’ To fight sniffles early, try Vicks First Defence Nasal Spray, £6.54/654 points (15ml). Forgotten your flu jab*? To book an appointment, go to boots.com/flujab.

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Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell… tum

Vomiting and diarrhoea? It could be the norovirus. ‘It can survive for weeks on hard surfaces, so wipe them down at home and work, and wash towels and sheets if someone is ill,’ says GP Dr Rob Hicks. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently using soap and water, particularly after going to the toilet and before preparing food, and consider Milton Antibacterial Hand Gel, £1.35/ 135 points (100ml), to provide extra protection when you’re out and about.

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Wheezing through the snow

Shockingly, Asthma UK warns that someone has an asthma attack every 10 seconds on Christmas Day. Colds and the flu, chilly air, dusty decorations, smoke from log fires and scented candles could all be triggers. Andrew Proctor, director of advice and support at Asthma UK, suggests: ‘Wrap a scarf loosely over your mouth and nose to warm the air before you breathe in.’ And, of course, keep your inhaler close by.

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It’s beginning to feel a lot like… indigestion

If you have heartburn, bloating or nausea, it might be midnight mince pie snaffling! ‘Indigestion is usually caused by overindulgence, but eating late or too quickly can also set it off,’ says Boots nutritionist Vicky Pennington. Do yourself a favour by avoiding fatty or spicy foods, chewing slowly – and not scoffing just before bedtime!

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The turkey trots
Some of us may become better acquainted with our loos this Christmas, and you might blame the turkey! Poultry is the food often linked to the most cases of food poisoning, with an estimated 244,000 every year. ‘Heat is the best way to kill bacteria, so cook meat properly,’ says Vicky. And beware the buffet. ‘If food’s been left out too long, it could allow bacteria to multiply.’

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The Vino virus 
Yes, we know it’s party season, but don’t drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis – that’s roughly 10 small glasses of wine, enjoyed over several days. ‘Have plenty of water throughout the day of the party so you start the evening fully hydrated,’ says Boots pharmacist Angela Chalmers. Another tip is to alternate alcoholic tipples with soft drinks – and remember, never indulge on an empty stomach.

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STIs: all I don’t want for Christmas!

You could end up with more than a red face if you’re caught under the mistletoe at the office bash. Sexually transmitted infections increase over the festive season as, experts fear, more of us take risks with unprotected sex. ‘See your GP if you notice any unusual symptoms, such as itchiness or discharge that isn’t thrush,’ says Angela. ‘Always use a condom and consider getting a sexual health check with every new partner, too.’

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Do they know it’s Stressmas?

Late nights, shopping queues… the stress of Christmas can make your blood pressure rise! Regular exercise can help reduce stress levels – and swap the festive pigs in blankets for another serving of sprouts. ‘Potassium (a nutrient found in Brussels sprouts) contributes to the maintenance of normal blood pressure,’ says Vicky. If you’re interested, or your GP has advised you to, you can track your blood pressure with Boots Pharmaceuticals Blood Pressure Monitor Wrist Unit, £49.99/4,999 points.

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The motorway malady

There’s nothing worse than feeling sick 30 minutes into a five-hour car journey to visit friends or relatives at Christmas! ‘Remember to take any travel-sickness medication before you leave home,’ says Angela. ‘It can also help to look out of the window into the distance and play games, such as spotting shapes in the clouds.’ It’s a good idea to ban books and iPads from the car, too, as these can trigger nausea while travelling.

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Get your jab for Lapland

More than four million Brits jet off for the festive season, so don’t forget to check if you need any travel vaccinations or antimalarials before you go. Angela says: ‘Head in store or go to boots.com/travelhealth to book an appointment with the Boots Travel Vaccinations and Health Advice Service – your pharmacist can provide travel vaccinations, antimalarials and health advice in store, as appropriate.’ Book at least six weeks before you go, in case you need a course of vaccinations.

*Selected stores only; eligibility criteria apply; subject to stock and pharmacist availability; charges may apply.
†Suitable from age 5 and over; selected stores only; subject to eligibility criteria, specially trained pharmacist and stock availability.

Words: Rosalind Ryan Photography Getty Images

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