The Danger of Other Illnesses
Not long ago, I was awoken on the early side of a morning by a persistent pain. Not the typical burning nerve pain that I feel in my extremities, but in my eye, of all places. Upon waking and trying to figure out what was going on, I noticed a small white mass on my eye. This wasn’t optic neuritis or any of the normal vision issues that can come with MS. A subsequent doctor’s appointment determined I had a corneal infection, a fairly rare but somewhat serious condition that can affect your eyesight and even scar your cornea. While everything worked out for me, it was a big reminder that living with Multiple Sclerosis means being ever vigilant when it comes to viruses, infections, and other illnesses.
Easily susceptible to illnesses
Multiple Sclerosis is a disease in which our own immune system attacks our body. It believes our nervous system is a foreign invader and attempts to destroy it. In some ways, it can be thought of as being a bit overactive. Many people with MS can often point to a particular illness or traumatic event in their lives against which their immune system started fighting, but then never stopped after they got better; it fought the illness and then continued on to their nervous system. So our immune system already isn’t functioning correctly. To add to that, many of the medications that we take to slow the progression of the disease intentionally suppress our immune system. That’s great when it comes to fighting MS and stopping it from damaging more of our nervous system, but it also means that our immune system isn’t in tip-top shape to fight off any other illness we might come across.
Danger! We can't fight off illness as well
With our immune systems both functioning incorrectly and being suppressed, it should come as no surprise that people with Multiple Sclerosis need to be cautious when it comes to other illnesses. Not only can we catch these bugs more easily, but they can also be harder to get rid of. A common cold may last a week for a normal person, but may last twice as long (or longer) for someone with MS. Our immune system can’t attack it as fast or effectively as it once could, leading to not only a longer duration but more severe symptoms as well.
Our MS can also become more active
In addition to more severe versions of these illnesses, we run the risk that our MS will also become more active. Anything that can excite our immune system can be a reason for concern, because if it gets going again, it may be harder to stop. I was once fairly stable with my MS and developed a cold sore (on my nose of all places), one that I failed to treat properly or quickly enough. Not too long after that, despite having some years without any relapses, I entered one of the worst exacerbations of my near 20 years with the disease. So it’s not only the various illnesses we need to be cautious about, it’s our MS as well.
Take precautions to prevent illness
With these immune system problems that we have because of our disease, as well as the way we fight it, we need to be extra attentive when it comes to staying healthy. If someone is sick, we need to avoid them, even if their illness seems minor. We have to wash our hands thoroughly and frequently (that sounds simple, but it’s really something that many people don’t do well enough). My corneal infection that I mentioned earlier is a good example: I’m a contact wearer, and despite cleaning my contacts properly and not sleeping in them, I still ended up with an infection because I am so much more susceptible to them. Basically, I need to do more than the minimum when it comes to cleaning them. We all need to take extra precautions when it comes to fighting viruses, infections, and other illnesses because our situation is different than most people. I’m writing all of this today, as not only a warning to those with MS to be more careful, but to our friends and family. If you are slightly sick, please let us know, and please understand if we decline a visit, refuse to shake hands, opt not to attend a large gathering, or decide to hide away for a while; these are just small, but important, ways in which we fight out disease.
On an average day, how would you rate your level of anxiety related to multiple sclerosis?