It’s known as the most wonderful time of the year, but winter can be the very worst for your health.

Colder weather can lead to some seasonal health issues that we all need to watch out for, especially if we want to avoid feeling unwell on Christmas Day.

While manyof us tend to focus on common ailments such as cold, viruses and flu, there are lesser-known health risks that are associated with winter. We asked health experts to tell us more…

Cold Sores
It starts with a tell-tale tingling on the edge of your mouth and develops into an angry, painful sore. Cold sores are one of the more embarrassing winter ailments, but they’re also widespread. The Herpes Viruses Association says that around seven in ten people have caught one of the viruses that cause them, though only one in three of them will show symptoms.

“Cold sores will spread to individuals that are in close contact to the affected area either through skin-to-skin touch or kissing,” says LloydsPharmacy pharmacist Pareena Patel. “As the virus is often underlying, remaining dormant, it can even be spread from individuals who don’t show symptoms, as well as those that do.”

Patel explains that many people believe that you can’t treat cold sores, but you actually can. “Whilst most cold sores will clear up by themselves in seven to 10 days, anti-viral creams and treatments designed to treat cold sores (available over the counter) can be effective at speeding up the healing process.”

Joint pain
Many people feel that arthritis-related pain increases when the temperature drops, making the Christmas period agony.

“Studies have found that cold and damp weather can irritate joint pain, particularly for those with arthritis,” explainsPatel. “While we don’t know for sure why this is, some scientists believe that changes in the weight of the air, known as barometric pressure, can cause expansion and contraction of tendons, muscles, bones and scar tissues.”

Of course, you can’t stop the wind and rain, but Patel believes that you can manage your flare-ups with certain lifestyle interventions.

“Hot and cold therapy is one of the most effective forms of joint pain relief,” she notes. “The heat enhances circulation, whilst delivering nutrients to joints and muscles, which is good for getting your body more limber.”
For an inexpensive home therapy, you could try alternating between a hot and cold shower in the morning, or applying heat packs to the affected area, followed by an ice compress.

Between the mince pies, turkey dinners and Christmas chocolates, over-indulgence during the festive period is pretty common. If you’re not careful though, it can bring on uncomfortable bloating, burping and indigestion that leaves you feeling sluggish and unwell.

“The food we eat over the winter period can also lead to many people experiencing indigestion and heartburn,” says Patel. “These are often triggered by fatty foods, big meals and alcohol, and can be uncomfortable due to the stomach acid coming in contact with the lining of the digestive system.”

Gut health expert and founder of Chuckling Goat Shann Nix Jones says that when it comes to indigestion, you should swerve the painkillers in favour of natural kefir – a fermented milk drink that’s similar to yogurt. This tangy treat is available to buy in most health foodshops.

“Pure, unflavoured kefir made with goat’s milk and real kefir grains is a fast and effective way to improve gut health,” believes Shann. “The probiotic kefir works to treat symptoms of digestive conditions by reducing elevated levels of inflammation in the brain and body.”