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The Flu and You – How Viruses Affect Autoimmune Diseases

The Flu and You – How Viruses Affect Autoimmune Diseases

It’s finally fall.  And while fall brings many wonderful things such as crisp evenings, beautiful foliage and pumpkin spice lattes it also brings with it the flu.  Most cases of the flu and common cold are relatively benign for most people, but for those with autoimmune diseases viral infections can mean symptom flares for their autoimmune condition.  Therefore it is important for those with autoimmune diseases to do their best to prevent viral infections like the flu and the common cold from aggravating their symptoms.

Viruses like the influenza (flu) and rhinovirus (common cold) tend to aggravate autoimmune diseases because they cause the immune system to flare in response to the virus.  Symptoms like coughing, sneezing, sore throat, chills and fever are all symptoms of your immune system acting to fight the virus.  And while it is important for your immune system to fight off those viruses, if it is already overactive because of autoimmunity, then it can make those symptoms worse.

But fortunately for those of you with autoimmune diseases, there are several ways you can help prepare yourself to not only reduce your changes of getting a viral infection, but also to reduce your chances of having an autoimmune flare.  Here are some of those ways:

Power Up Your Anti-Viral Arsenal

Going into cold and flu season, there are many different herbs and supplements that can help you prevent viruses from getting out of hand.  The best and most readily available supplements include vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin C and Zinc.  B vitamins can also help promote healthy immune system function.  Herbal therapies such as echinacea, andrographis, and elderberry can also help to prevent viral infections.  Make sure you talk with your healthcare provider about the appropriate dosages for these therapies.

Feed and Strengthen Your Body

Exercise and healthy eating habits can do wonders for helping you fend off viruses.  Mild to moderate aerobic exercise 3-4x a week can help not only improve immune function, but can help prevent cold and flu.  Promoting a diet full of vitamin and mineral rich fruits and vegetables can also help your body stock up on the nutrients is needs to fight infection.  You can find additional tips on ways to prevent colds and flu here.

Work on Lowering your Immune Burden

Many autoimmune diseases flare up because the immune system becomes so overstimulated by multiple triggers that it begins to produce symptoms.  By finding and controlling triggers such as food allergies, hormonal imbalances, GI imbalances or heavy metal toxicities, the body’s immune burden decreases making it more tolerable to triggers such as viruses.  When the immune burden decreases, viral infections may not be enough of a trigger to produce symptoms, creating a more tolerable experience.

Get a flu shot

While a flu shot is not protective against all forms of the influenza virus, it can help prevent against some of the most common strains.  Those with serious life threatening autoimmune diseases, or those at high risk for flu complications, should consider getting a flu shot.  If you are uncertain as to whether you should get a flu shot this year, contact your doctor as they can explain to you the risks and benefits of receiving a flu shot this year.

While getting the flu or the common cold is never pleasant, it shouldn’t lead you feeling worse because of autoimmune flares.  If you have further questions about how to prevent colds and flus from affecting your autoimmune disease, call our office today at 206-588-1227 and schedule an appointment with one of our expert physicians.

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