Nobody likes to be ill, but we find early on in life that common illnesses, such as the cold and the flu, are something we have to put up with. We agree, through mutual experience, that they are unpleasant, yet have their own place in the whole fabric of life. It has even been suggested that the cold may serve as a sort of periodic reboot for the immune system.
On the other hand, multiple sclerosis is neither common nor natural. What we get when we combine the common with the unnatural is an uncommonly severe illness, in effect and duration. The last thing we need is any kind of extra blow to our immune system.
The processes of the immune system in MS are already responding inappropriately or in a compromised way on a daily basis. When you throw in a monkey wrench like a cold or flu, two things happen. The first is that the body is not able to respond to the illness in an efficient, focused manner. This tends to result in being sicker than normal for a longer than normal period of time. Aside from an impaired ability to fight the illness, already existing deficits caused by MS – such as fatigue, muscle aches, numbness and heat intolerance may become more pronounced.
Secondly, common illnesses may actually ‘jump start’ an MS relapse. The over-excited immune system, striving to address the problem, may actually result in additional problems that have nothing to do with the original illness. Such was the case after a flu I had last year. Upon recovering from the flu illness itself, I found that I had new neurological problems involving severe headaches, impaired vision and a constant ringing in the ears. In short, I suffered an MS relapse.
Now, when I come down with a common illness, I keep a close eye on anything unusual that may arise in concert with the normal symptoms, and I am quick to take a course of methylprednisolone if things seem not quire right. Other than that, the best we can do is try to keep healthy, both mentally and physically, and patiently look to the promises of the future.
Do you get colds often? Do you notice they affect your multiple sclerosis?
Richard was raised in Portland, Oregon and diagnosed with MS in 2007. Within 3 years, he decided to retire early, at 55, and move to Bali with his wife, who is originally Indonesian. From there, he continues to write about experiences with MS as well as his various adventures on the island.