The “Common” Cold

It’s that time of year again. Everywhere you turn, it seems like someone is sniffing, sneezing, or coughing. For most people, cold season is a nuisance, but for people with MS, cold season can be debilitating, and even lead to health complications.

Cold viruses often impact people with MS differently than the rest of the population, making cold prevention and recovery very important. This month, many in our MS community shared their experiences with the common cold and we thought you might relate as well. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Symptoms & Recovery Time

“The past two winters, I have caught my daughter’s cold and I get hit HARD to the point I have to go to emergency and get booked into the hospital.”

“Like having life sucked out of you”

“Whenever the rest of my family gets a cold or virus, it passes within a week. When I catch it (and I almost always catch it) it lasts for weeks, PLUS I get pseudoexacerbations on top of it. No fun.”

It takes me 3 times as long to get over a cold than it does anyone else. So frustrating!”

“When I get a cold now, it lasts 2-3 weeks”

According to our MS community, the “common cold” is anything but common. While most people recover from a cold in seven to ten days1, for MS patients, it can take much longer. According to many of our community members, cold symptoms are also more intense for people with MS, often making underlying MS symptoms more noticeable.

In addition to typical cold symptoms (such as fever, cough, congestion, body aches, and headaches1), cold viruses can also lead to MS pseudoexacerbations, which usually last less than 24 hours and may mirror the symptoms of a full-blown MS relapse. Because a fever can trigger a pseudoexacerbation2, you may want to ask your healthcare provider if over-the-counter fever reducers (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen) are safe for you.

When You’re Surrounded by Sick People…

“Every time my parents get sick then I will catch it…I just wish they would learn about MS.”

“Unfortunately for us, even the hospital and doctor office can be risky.”

“People just don’t understand, no matter how much you explain it to them.”

I try to stay away from sick people.”

“Do NOT expose yourself to sick people. If they don’t get it, tough. Please protect yourself.”

MS is understood to be an autoimmune disorder.3 In terms of immune health, many community members have shared that MS has made them more susceptible to colds, as well as other illness. According to many of you, being around sick people almost guarantees that you catch whatever’s going around, making doctor’s offices, public transit, and even the workplace risky during cold and flu season.

For many community members, it can be difficult to avoid the cold germs, especially without accusations that you’re being “rude” or “overdramatic” when asking sick people to keep their distance. However, if you’re managing MS, your health is the priority. To stay healthy during cold season, many community members recommend avoiding sick friends, family, and strangers all together, and talking to people about how MS affects your immune system.

Cold Complications

“Sinus and ear infection, felt like I had the flu. Going on day 8. Ugh.”

“I have a cold and 2 infections right now. It can’t ever just be one thing.”

“Ear infections”

In addition to experiencing more intense cold symptoms, a longer recovery time, and increased susceptibility to the cold virus, individuals with MS are also more susceptible to infections.4 Common colds can spread to the ears, chest, and sinuses,5 leading many MS patients to experience other complications as a result of a cold, such as ear infections and sinus infections. Because MS can make it harder to fight infections, be sure to talk to your doctor if you think you’ve developed an infection, or if you experience a pseudoexacerbation lasting more than 24 hours.

Staying Healthy… or Recovering

“NO double dipping, sharing drinks, utensils, and most definitely, the cook must NOT lick the spoon the put it back…Even if your family and friends are not showing symptoms, they could have picked up something.”

“Wash your hands all day, all night, and eat tons of veggies. I drink a blender full, and it really helps. Take good care.”

“Wash your hands, don’t kiss anyone (except your honey), tons of veggies, exercise as tolerated, and get LOTS of sleep.”

As we move into cold and flu season, many of our community members have suggestions for staying healthy and cold-free, such as good handwashing, maintaining a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep. If you do develop cold symptoms, consider these tips for fighting a cold. To prevent the flu, you should also talk to your healthcare provider about getting a flu shot, especially if you are exposed to family members and co-workers who may carry the flu virus.

Works Cited

  1. Mayo Clinic. “Common Cold.” Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/ symptoms-causes/syc-20351605. Accessed 27 Nov. 2017.
  2. Editorial Team. “Is It an MS Relapse or a Pseudoexacerbation?” MultipleSclerosis.net, Health Union, 6 Mar. 2017, multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/relapse-or-pseudoexacerbation/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2017.
  3. Health Union. “What Is MS?” MultipleSclerosis.Net, Health Union, multiplesclerosis.net/what-is-ms/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2017.
  4. Montgomery, S., et al. “Hospital Admission Due to Infections in Multiple Sclerosis Patients.” European Journal of Neurology, vol. 20, no. 8, Aug. 2013, pp. 1153-60, dos:10.1111/ene.12130. Accessed 27 Nov. 2017.
  5. NHS. “Common Cold: Complications.” National Health Service, NHS, www.nhs.uk/conditions/common-cold/complications/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2017.
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