As we transition from summer into Autumn, viral illness becomes more prevalent. We start spending more time indoors and in closed spaces as the weather turns from cool to cold. Several illnesses are commonly spread during this time. For some, these viral illnesses can be dangerous. The elderly population, the young, and those with compromised immune systems are more apt to develop complications from mere viruses. Many of the symptoms of these viral conditions are similar.
As the leaves start to fall, molds and mold spores become prominent. These are the most common allergens for many. Another is dust mites. These are everywhere in our homes, but once the windows are closed and the heat comes up for the first time, dust mites are stirred up.
The virus that causes the common cold is around all year long, but the fall season is the peak time for colds. A cold has stages.
Prevention- Hand hygiene, wash them frequently. Avoid touching your face and eyes. Cover your nose and mouth when coughing. Avoid crowded spaces.
If you develop the symptoms of a cold, take over-the-counter (OTC) medications to manage your symptoms. Taking extra vitamin C and zinc is helpful.
Flu season begins in late fall. It is wise to consider getting a flu vaccine in late summer to early fall. It takes about 6 weeks to develop immunity after the vaccine. The flu lasts on average 3 to 7 days. Symptoms come on fast and include:
Prevention- Hand hygiene, avoid crowds, cover your mouth when sneezing/coughing, eat healthily, rest and lower stress levels.
A sore throat starts with a scratchy feeling in the back of the throat. The voice can become hoarse. You may feel itchy, watery eyes and note some congestion. The glands in the neck can swell. Loss of appetite is common.
Prevention- Hand hygiene, don’t share utensils, food, or drink, and avoid crowds.
Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinus tissue surrounding the nasal passages. This causes a feeling of fullness in the nasal passages and can cause headaches. The pressure from inflammation can cause deferred pain in the upper teeth. Congestion and post-nasal drip are common and discharge from the nose can be green in color.
Prevention- Manage allergies and congestion, drink plenty of fluids to this mucous, and keep nasal passages moist, using a nasal saline spray or a Netty pot.
More common in children, an ear infection may be a result of other illnesses such as allergies, a cold, or the flu. Viral infection in the middle ear is common as well. Symptoms include ear pain, dizziness, loss of hearing, fullness, or pressure in the ear. If left untreated, vomiting and fever can occur.
Prevention- Manage symptoms of cold, flu, and allergies with OTC medications, hand hygiene, and avoid cleaning inside the ears with cotton swabs.
Bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchial tubes that carry air into the lungs. Viral infection is a common cause. You may feel chest congestion or tightness, feel short of breath, or experience wheezing. A sore throat and chills are common with bronchitis, along with a cough that produces mucous that is clear, green, or yellow.
Prevention- Hand hygiene, avoid smoking, avoid fumes, vapor and dust. Manage viral symptoms with OTC medications.
Asthma flare-ups are common with many of these Autumn illnesses. Cold and dampness can dry the airways, triggering a flare.
Prevention- Avoid triggers, avoid poor air quality spaces (places where smoking occurs). Use inhalers if needed.
Norovirus is very contagious and is prevalent from fall through winter. It causes inflammation in the stomach lining and spreads from person to person or by eating contaminated food. Symptoms include abdominal pain/cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle pain.
Prevention- Hand hygiene, especially when preparing meals or after toileting. Do not prepare meals or care for others if you are sick. Disinfect bathrooms, faucets, and toilets.
Vitamin D deficiency is common when we don’t spend time in the sun. Our body produces it with sun exposure. Adequate levels of vitamin D keep the immune system functioning well. It is essential for physical and mental wellness. The symptoms of deficiency include fatigue, bone and back pain, hair loss, poor wound healing, and depression.
Prevention- Eat foods rich in vitamin D (fatty fish, seafood, mushrooms, milk, yogurt, cheese). Consider taking a vitamin D supplement.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder, and is common in the fall and winter months. It can lead to clinical depression. Symptoms include sadness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, increased sleepiness, and weight gain.
Prevention- Physical exercise, vitamin D supplements, self-care
Arthritis is inflammation of the joints. It is not necessarily a condition related to the fall months, but it can be exacerbated by cold, damp weather. Typical flare symptoms include joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and tenderness.
Prevention- Exercise regularly, eat well and control weight.
Many of these conditions are not restricted to the fall but tend to be present more as we transition to the cooler weather and spend more time indoors. Covid 19 is yet another concern as we transition during this time. If you kept tabs on the flu season the past few years, the numbers have been lower than usual. I attribute this to mask-wearing and increased awareness of hand hygiene.
Keep up the good work, and don’t let your guard down!
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Christine Kijek is a colorectal nurse at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, CT. She has a wealth of knowledge in this field as well as personal experience. HPFY is thrilled that she has been ...
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