In the United States, we are in the midst of cold and flu season, not to mention the continued spread of the coronavirus. We’ve all experienced the frustration as we’ve tried to fend off congestion, sore throat, and body chills. Usually, these viruses go away after a couple of days or weeks, and we are able to go back to our daily routines.
However, for people with already-existing chronic illnesses, contracting a virus is oftentimes much more severe and dangerous. For us, a cold isn’t just a cold.
This article will explain how those with chronic conditions are more susceptible to common viruses and provide tips on how to stay healthy this season.
This Is What It Feels Like
At the start of the winter months, my fiancé and I drove two states over to go home for the holidays. This is where it hit. Some of our friends and family members were unwell. As I hugged them and handed out presents, I became increasingly at risk for getting sick.
I have multiple disabilities that leave a big impact on my body. On a normal day, my body is fighting my GI tract to keep food down, adjusting to my rapidly fluctuating blood pressure, and sending pain signals off from dislocated joints. My body has gotten used to multitasking, but it can only do so much.
When I started to feel a tickle in my throat, the panic set in. In the next few days, I had the works: cough, sneeze, congestion, body aches, fever. My body wasn’t sure what to prioritize anymore. This left me with high levels of pain as well as severe fatigue and nausea.
Throughout the rest of the holiday activities, the people around me started to get better. Their voices returned to normal. Their scratchy throats cleared.
I continued to get sicker.
My illness lasted for two months. During that time, I wasn’t able to do much besides sleep and call my doctor. I ended up at an urgent care clinic about a dozen times and eventually went to the ER for a breathing treatment and antibiotics.
Finally, well into the start of the spring semester, I wasn’t feeling sick sick anymore. But my immune system had a lot of catching up to do. I was exhausted. My body hurt. I was weak and gaunt. weeks after my symptoms cleared, I had to negotiate with my body on what I’d be able to do in a given day. Additionally, I had to implement a lot of preventative measures so that I would not be exposed to another virus.
My classmates and I talked about our winter breaks when we returned for the new semester. I said that I had been sick the entire time, and a few of my colleagues said that they, too, were so sick. But I couldn’t help but wonder if they realized just how sick my type of sick could be.
This is why it’s important for those with chronic illnesses as well as those without them to practice healthy habits that prevent the spread of germs. Together, we can work toward a shared world that is a little less sick.
Surviving Cold and Flu Season with Chronic Illness
The presence of viral infections such as a cold or the flu increases in the colder months of the year. These viruses spread from person to person through either direct or indirect contact. This means that it’s extremely challenging to avoid full contact with harmful germs or bacteria.
Symptoms that come with a common cold include sinus congestion, persistent sneezing, and having a cough. The symptoms for the flu are similar but often more intense. These might present as:
- High fever
- Body and muscle aches
- Extreme fatigue
For most people, a cold is an annoyance more than anything. However, developing the flu can be deadly, especially for people who have weakened immune systems. Always be sure to check in with your doctor for severe and long-lasting symptoms.
While there is no vaccine to prevent a common cold, you can ask your health care provider if you are a good candidate for the flu shot, which aids in immunity from influenza.
Typically, people who catch one of these viruses find relief quickly and do not have any lasting symptoms. But what happens if you contract an illness when your body is already fighting off a chronic condition?
A chronic health condition is one that is long-lasting with little to no moments of relief from the illness or pain. There are many different types of chronic illnesses, including:
- Autoimmune disorders (colitis, lupus, etc.)
- Chronic pain conditions
- Life-threatening diseases (cancer, cystic fibrosis, etc.)
In patients with chronic illnesses, symptoms can go through periods of dormancy and activity. Flareups are particularly common when one’s body is fighting foreign germs or bacteria that come from viruses.
In instances of chronic illness, patients’ bodies are constantly working to regulate symptoms. When more symptoms, such as those from a cold or the flu, are added on top of that, it becomes harder for our bodies to stay healthy.
This can lead to huge health risks, not to mention the discomfort and pain that comes alongside these added symptoms. For this reason, cold and flu season is especially dangerous for us and those with weakened immune systems.
Thus, practicing sickness prevention can be the difference between life and death in these cases.
5 Illness Prevention Tips
Being exposed to germs and illnesses is inevitable. However, there are important steps you can take to decrease your likelihood of becoming ill or spreading infections.
1. Wash Your Hands and Use Antibacterial Soap
This might sound like a given, but practicing good hand washing habits helps to eliminate the number of germs that can move from your hands and skin to the inside of your body. This is especially important after using the restroom, being in public spaces, and before eating.
2. Wear a Mask in High-Risk Environments
Since bacteria can spread easily by coughing and sneezing, if you are sick and must be out in public, it is important to have constant coverage. In some cases, your doctor might recommend that you wear a mask, especially in high-risk environments like waiting rooms, classrooms, public transportation, etc.
Not only does this protect others from catching your illness but it protects you from catching other viruses while your immune system is in a state of vulnerability.
3. Take Immune Supplements and Boosters
With the advice of your medical support team, you may consider starting immune boosters. These can come in the form of pills or powder that you ingest through food and drink. Occasionally, some people choose to add fruits and vegetables to their diet as a way to naturally encourage their immune system to restore itself.
4. Communicate Openly with Friends and Family
It is incredibly important to communicate openly with your friends and family if you have a chronic illness that can worsen from common viruses. This way, the people in your life can warn you if they are sick. Knowing the risks of picking up illnesses allows for patients to accommodate for their body’s needs.
5. Do Not Go Out if You Are Unwell
This advice goes for anybody who is affected by a contagious illness. Regardless of the responsibilities you have on a day-to-day basis, your health and the wellbeing of others around you is the most important objective. If you are unwell, prioritize rest and recovery.
Obviously, this may be difficult if you cannot afford to take time off from work or school. If possible, look into working remotely when sick or livestreaming a lecture.
How do you avoid getting sick?
Do you have any tips that help during cold and flu season? Share your experiences with chronic illness and viruses below!
What questions do you have about avoiding viruses?
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