If, for some, the crisp air and red and orange leaves are signs of the seasonal delights that accompany the fall and winter months, for others they are signs that it is time to also prepare for the arrival of an unwelcome guest: the allergic rhinitis.
Often associated with spring and summer, the allergic rhinitis season has extended into autumn and winter due to changes in temperatures and weather patterns, which result in longer periods of pollen production for several plant species.
The change has consequences for everyone, not just those who suffer from allergic rhinitis. Often in the colder months, when colds and flu are common, it is difficult to determine both the cause of symptoms and appropriate treatment.
How to identify and treat
Although several symptoms overlap, it is possible, by analyzing them, to distinguish between colds, flu and allergic rhinitis.
Sneezing and a runny or stuffy nose are common in both allergic rhinitis and colds.
However, if you also have red, watery, or swollen eyes and an itchy throat, it’s probably allergic rhinitis, as these symptoms are much less common with colds. But if your throat is irritated and you also have a cough, it’s probably a cold.
Flu symptoms are rarely confused with those of allergic rhinitis, although they can be similar to those of a cold.
A cough is the most common crossover symptom between a cold and the flu. Others, such as a sore throat, sneezing, or runny nose, can sometimes occur with the flu, although this is less common.
Likewise, chills, fatigue and body aches — which are common in the flu — can sometimes occur in people with a cold, although they are less characteristic.
The best way to tell a cold from the flu is if you have a fever — and if you’re experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhea, which can sometimes occur with the flu.
Another symptom to watch out for is the temporary loss of smell and taste. Although this sign can occur in cases of allergic rhinitis, it is usually accompanied by a stuffy nose. If you notice that you have a loss of smell or taste, but your nose is not blocked, you may have a cold or flu.
Strengthening your immune system
Here are some strategies to strengthen your immune system and avoid being knocked down by a cold, flu or allergic rhinitis:
Strengthen your gut: A diet rich in amino acids, vitamins, minerals and fiber is essential for your immunity cells and consequently for your immune system.
The Mediterranean diet is considered a good option because it contains lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and protein sources such as fish, meat or plant-based alternatives. Additionally, consider probiotics—especially blends containing Lactobacillus or Bifidobacteriumwhich can improve your immune response and reduce the severity of infections.
Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption weaken immune defenses. Consuming five or six drinks in one night can suppress the immune system for up to 24 hours.
Prioritize sleep: Sleep is important for maintaining immune function as it reduces inflammation in the body. Try to sleep more, at least seven hours a night. Sleeping less than this can contribute to increasing the chances of you suffering from common illnesses.
Manage stress: The stress hormone cortisol negatively affects immune system cells, altering their function. It also increases histamine levels in the bloodstream, worsening allergy symptoms. Practicing mindfulness can contribute to stress control – and, consequently, to strengthening the immune system.
Exercise: Practicing moderate-intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking or ballroom dancing) can improve your immune response. But it is important to find the right measure, as long and intense physical activity, without rest between workouts, can worsen immune function.
Get vaccinated: Vaccination is essential. But, as it is only possible to get vaccinated against the flu virus, other preventative measures — such as washing your hands and wearing a mask in busy indoor spaces — can help protect you from both the flu and colds.
Other measures that can help prevent symptoms in those who tend to have allergic rhinitis:
Allergens: Avoid allergens that trigger symptoms. On days with high pollen counts, consider staying home, keeping windows closed, and using HEPA filters indoors or an N95 mask to filter out pollen particles.
Antihistamines: Over-the-counter antihistamines, such as cetirisine or loratadine, may be effective in controlling the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Ideally, they should be taken before exposure to allergens, under medical supervision, with use continued for as long as symptoms last.
Consider immunotherapy: Allergy injections, or immunotherapy, can reduce the symptoms of allergic rhinitis by reducing the immune system’s sensitivity to allergens over time, resulting in lasting improvement. For it to be effective, immunotherapy needs to be done several times.
Making just a few of these lifestyle adjustments can, however, make a difference in strengthening your immune system, reducing your risk of getting sick or experiencing allergic rhinitis symptoms during the colder months.
The text was originally published here.