The Period Flu

The Period Flu

Apr 09, 2023Sari Eitches, MD
Some people may notice their allergy symptoms fluctuate not just seasonally, but also with their menstrual cycle. This is because the menstrual hormones estrogen and progesterone affect the levels and activity of histamine in the body.

Histamine is an inflammatory chemical involved in the body's immune response and can cause symptoms of itching, runny nose, watery eyes and headache.  Estrogen has been shown to both stimulate the release of histamine from mast cells and also increase the sensitivity of histamine receptors in the body.

Estrogen fluctuates drastically during the menstrual cycle, peaking during ovulation, and increasing again about a week before one's period. Because of these rhythmic changes, people who are sensitive to histamine may notice certain symptoms mid cycle and/or in the week before their periods, referred to as the "period flu."

Symptoms of the period flu can include congestion, fatigue, headache and body aches. These symptoms overlap with those of viral infections and allergies so it can be difficult to differentiate them. Allergies typically include more itchy eyes and runny nose symptoms and a viral infection usually lasts longer.

The best way to differentiate period flu from the other symptoms is to pay attention to their rhythms. Allergies might have a seasonal or situational pattern. Viral infections are more common in the winter months but can also feel like they come on at random. Period flu will have a rhythmic, predictable pattern of symptoms that come on in the week or two before your menstrual period. Using a period tracker can help identify this pattern.

Treatment of period flu can be targeted to the symptoms. Some people get relief with standard anti-inflammatory or anti-histamine medications.

Treatment and prevention of period flu symptoms are also through lifestyle practices:

1. Keep well hydrated to prevent headaches.
2. Take a warm bath to ease muscle aches.
3. Eat a whole foods, plant strong diet to decrease inflammation.
4. Try cycle-syncing- recognizing and allowing for the monthly fluctuations of our bodies' abilities and needs. Rest when you are feeling tired, especially when experiencing period flu symptoms. 

1.  Zierau O, Zenclussen AC, Jensen F. Role of female sex hormones, estradiol and progesterone, in mast cell behavior. Front Immunol. 2012 Jun 19;3:169. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2012.00169. PMID: 22723800; PMCID: PMC3377947.
2.  Bonds RS, Midoro-Horiuti T. Estrogen effects in allergy and asthma. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2013 Feb;13(1):92-9. doi: 10.1097/ACI.0b013e32835a6dd6. PMID: 23090385; PMCID: PMC3537328.

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