Tips and Tricks for Relief From the Flu When You Have MS

If having a chronic autoimmune disorder like MS isn’t bad enough, the fall and winter bring additional risks with the introduction of the annual flu season.

Practice vigilance

Ironically, while MS is basically the response of an overactive immune system, its therapies tend to dampen the immune response significantly. Any kind of virus or viral infection can become radically more difficult to power through for someone with an immune system disorder, even if they are vaccinated.

The length and severity of any kind of viral infection are usually greater for people with MS. The risk of developing secondary infections is also a concern.

Make sleep a priority

Perhaps the first act a person with MS can take when they get a virus is to prioritize sleep. But there are a couple of challenges inherent in that goal:

  1. Sleep is really hard to achieve when you’re sick with a virus!
  2. Sleep is already problematic for people with MS.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of sleep as a weapon against anything from the common cold to the flu and even pneumonia:


  • Use breathing strips to help keep swollen passages open.
  • Squirt some saline nasal spray to moisturize your mucous membranes and clear congestion.
  • Elevate the head of your bed by 3 inches.
  • Sleep in a recliner or prop yourself to a sitting position in bed or a chair using pillows behind your back to drain sinus passages.
  • Avoid doubling up on pillows by in a horizontal position, as this can actually restrict your airway even more.
  • Use gravity to your benefit: sleep on your side, alternating, until your sinuses have drained enough to promote a calm, unfettered pattern of breathing


  • It seems obvious, but it can be hard to do: stay hydrated! Options include water, 100% fruit juices, chicken bone broth, decaffeinated herbal teas, even alternative “milks” like almond, soy or rice warmed or steamed for a cozy bedtime sendoff.
  • Avoid caffeine 100%! It will interfere with sleep and also contribute to dehydration.
  • Use a humidifier or vaporizer to restore humidity in your sleeping space.
  • Keep humidifiers clean. Otherwise, they can put more allergens and microorganisms into the air that antagonize, rather than alleviate, your condition.
  • Right before bed, place your face over a bowl or sink of hot water—adding pure essential oils, such as lavender or eucalyptus—and cover your head with a towel to catch the steam.
  • A warm shower or bath right before bed helps (but don’t go to bed with wet hair).
  • Try old school menthol products—chest rub, lip balm, body lotion, personal inhaler—which are surprisingly effective in thinning secretions. (Exception: avoid menthol lozenges while reclined to reduce choking risk.)


  • Drugstore cold medicines can interfere with sleep: pseudoephedrine and diphenhydramine can cause insomnia, and alcohol-based liquid cold medicines are dehydrating and can interfere with deep sleep (essential for healing).
  • To manage fever and discomfort, use simple medications, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen. Combination cold medications can provoke drug interactions with other MS-related medications or supplements you might be taking.
  • Be careful about nasal sprays; some are only meant to be used a few nights, with long-term use potentially worsening your symptoms. Medicated sprays might include steroids that cause sleeplessness.


  • It seems counterintuitive, but keep your bedroom on the cool side. Your body needs to achieve a slight decrease in body temperature for the best sleep. A too-warm room can contribute to nasal stuffiness, dry air, and excessive sweating.
  • Use several layers of blankets you can add or subtract during sleep to maintain a healthy core body temperature and range of comfort.
  • A dark bedroom promotes sleep. If your room isn’t as dim as you’d like, or you’re napping during the day, use an eye mask.
  • Try to stick to a normal sleep-wake schedule. Disrupted circadian rhythms, from too much daytime sleep and too much nighttime wakefulness, can make it harder to get over an infection.
  • That said, midday nap can be helpful; listen to your body and let it decide when it needs to rest. But avoid marathon daytime naps, as they can displace the healing sleep you need to achieve at night.
  • Avoid your blue-spectrum light sources (mostly found in handheld electronic devices) after the sun goes down. When these specific kinds of light rays reach your eyes, they signal the pineal gland to stop releasing melatonin, critical for inducing sleep.
  • If you must use a handheld electronic device at night, activate any built-in blue-blocking filter apps it might contain, or wear “gamer’s glasses,” which have blue-blocking lenses.
  • If you like to read at night, choose a reading light with a built-in blue-blocking light filter, or read by the light of an incandescent bulb.
  • At night, keep your home dimly lit.
  • Avoid stimulating music, video games, social media, or television programming that might provoke anxiety so that your body can naturally fall into its normal sleep rhythm.


  • Your CPAP is your best friend during a viral infection. The warm moist air from a PAP machine can alleviate many sinus complaints, facilitate deep healing sleep and leave you feeling refreshed upon awakening. It can also shave off days of recovery time.
  • If you go to bed feeling congested, a simple squirt of saline spray or “hit” from a personal menthol inhaler can really help.
  • However, don’t add any kind of product to your PAP machine reservoir besides distilled water! Instead, try a misting whole-room diffuser for its aromatic benefits; you’ll avoid potential problems with inhaling the oils directly into your lungs.
  • Don’t forget to PAP while you nap! This ensures your sleep is restorative and uncompromised by apnea stress.
  • Finally, keep your PAP equipment clean on a daily basis using a mild detergent. Some people with MS opt to use a system sanitizer—a simple, but effective means for killing harmful bacteria.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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