Top ten Christmas health risks


Ready for Christmas? You may have your Christmas menu planned, your tree decorated and your presents wrapped, but have you thought about the potential dangers? Don't worry, I have - and so have lots of other people intent on ensuring you keep well this festive season.

So here, in no particular order, is my personal selection of the top 10 Christmas health risks. I naturally expect readers to take great exception with the list and suggest their own and probably to accuse me of being a Christmas kill-joy. Not so, but a few sensible precautions could help prevent this being a festive period to forget. A merry - and healthy - Christmas to you all.

Turkey A turkey to remember?
1. Don't let it be a turkey

Turkey is probably the biggest thing that goes in your oven each year - if not what else? - and here are some simple ways to make sure it's part of a meal to remember for the right reasons. Don't wash it before cooking. The majority of us do and that simply risks spreading harmful bacteria over worktops. If you have bought a frozen bird then make sure it is fully defrosted with no ice crystals inside. Cook it properly until none of the meat is pink and the juices run clear. You might prefer Delia or Jamie but NHS Choices has advice on cooking turkey. In the interests of balance you should know that summer is the peak time of year for food poisoning.

2. High lights, low lights

It may look festive but dragging a tree - plastic or wooden - into your living room and covering it with electric lights and tiny glass baubles is asking for trouble! According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) around 1,000 people visit A&E after calamities with their tree and 350 following problems with Christmas lights. How many years have you been using those lights? Consider a new set, and remember to turn them off at night.

3. Up in smoke

That line of tea lights flickering on the window ledge won't seem such a good idea if your curtains are set ablaze. Candles cause more than 1,000 house fires and several deaths every year. Fairy lights, decorations and even Christmas cards are also a fire hazard. You are more 50% more likely to die in a house fire at Christmas than any other time. Make sure you don't take the battery out of your smoke alarm to supply a new toy. A scary video of how a Christmas tree can turn into an inferno can be seen here. But remember the majority of house fires start in the kitchen. The UK Fire Service has advice for a safe Christmas.

4. Mind your step

There are more accidental falls and traffic accidents in December with bad weather and short daylight hours both playing a part. Snow and ice can be a lethal opponent to even the fittest individual and the best drivers. Last winter there were 76 deaths due to exposure to the cold, 25 fatalities caused by falling on ice or snow and one involving ice skates. The AA has winter driving advice.

Christmas decorations Watch out for those baubles
5. Keep an eye on the kids

Christmas offers a whole variety of choking hazards from Christmas tree bulbs to decorations. Make sure presents are appropriate for the age and watch out for small items that could be swallowed by toddlers. RoSPA has Christmas safety advice.

6. I couldn't eat another

Let's face it most of us will eat too much over Christmas. That's not a problem if it's a one-off, but two out of three adults are overweight or obese. The British Heart Foundation says Christmas lunch can provide more calories than are needed in an entire day and has advice on how to reduce fat and calorie consumption, such as removing skin from turkey and eating slowly.

7. Hic...

Whereas eating too much will simply harm your own waistline, excess alcohol can ruin the lives of others too. Assaults - many fuelled by alcohol - and drink driving both rise over Christmas and New Year. There is also a rise in alcohol poisoning.

8. Unfestive fevers

There are always more deaths in winter than other times of year, with causes such as respiratory and circulatory diseases, and infections like flu. There are five times as many emergency admissions for pneumonia in December compared to August and cold weather also triggers a rise in asthma problems . There are more cases of norovirus - or winter vomiting bug - around than in recent years, but we are a long way off the peak of early 2010. Colds, sore throats and painful joints are all more prevalent in winter. There are things you can do to minimise some risks such as have a flu jab, stay warm and wash your hands regularly.

9. The season of ill will

Let's face it, family arguments are a far more reliable bet than the chances of a white Christmas. The advice from Relate is not to play the blame game with your partner or family (try charades instead); delegate and share responsibilities, confront the issue and not each other and avoid sarcasm. I'll try - honest - but keep in mind the old saying - guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.

10. Lonely this Christmas

There's only one thing worse than being surrounded by your relatives at Christmas and that's not being surrounded by them. Someone calls Samaritans every six seconds but the charity says the idea that Christmas is the busiest time of year is something of a myth. Research suggests there is a fall in suicides during the Christmas period followed by an increase just after the New Year. Of course loneliness is just one of many problems people face in the coming weeks. Some will be confronted by a growing mountain of debt early in the New Year as Christmas bills start to pour in. Then there is marital breakdown - more people consider ending their relationship in January than at any other time.

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    I am not going to leave candles burning under the curtains as I am not stupid! I am not going to go out in the freezing cold wearing just a pair of boxer shorts and a smile! Nor am I going to eat pink turkey, and I am capable of deciding for myself whether or not the tree lights are still working correctly! Yes, Christmas cards are a fire hazard - if you light them with a match!

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    ..and where do Rospa drag up their 'figures'? Are doctors busily writing 'injured by Xmas tree' and elvish clerks adding the figures? Sounds like the National Guesswork Authority to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.


    Sparing in what though?! After all us British blokes are not exactly known for being forthcoming about much in this world....!

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    150. USAperson "British men sparing in the streets"

    It has just occurred to me that you may have meant 'sparring' (practice boxing). Still not sure why you would like to imagine that - people in England punch each other often which is one reason why I never go there.
    Unfortunately, 'sparing' is a very different word with a very different meaning and my mind did not make the leap immediately.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    150. USAperson "It is called both - Feast of the Three Kings being easier to remember for RC school children"

    Must be a USA thing. My partner was a RC schoolchild and has never heard of that either. Happily now an atheist.

    "but I do like to imagine British men sparing in the streets"

    Sparing what? I do not know any British men so cannot comment on that reagrdless of what it is meant to mean.


Comments 5 of 155


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