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When a Cold Is Not Just a Cold

When a Cold Is Not Just a Cold

Tis the season for flu, colds, and other nasty critters shared via coughs, handshakes, and sneezes. I start getting twitchy on public transit when I see uncovered coughs and hear loud sneezes. When will the bugs strike?
If you’re anything like me, just thinking about a microbe can make me catch it. I seem to collect all the stomach bugs, viruses, and sniffles that are passed around throughout the year. It’s likely due to the autoimmune suppressant medications I take because before I was on them I was not so susceptible. In recent years I feel even more exposed.

Keeping your immune system as healthy as possible

I take sensible precautions such as trying to keep my immune system as healthy as possible with a daily multivitamin and probiotic capsule. I also take a vitamin C supplement for another boost. All of these supplements have been approved by my doctor because it is a tricky balance—I don’t want to take anything that would aggravate my rheumatoid arthritis or conflict with my medications. For example, I can’t take anything with zinc or those immune boosters that people take at the first sign of a cold. (In fact, he doesn’t even want me to take allergy shots out of concern that that they would increase my immune response and heighten my RA symptoms.)

It’s not just how easy it is for me to catch bugs and infections that makes me jumpy—it’s the complications that can come with these illnesses. For me, a cold is not just a cold. It could become bronchitis or pneumonia.

A cold can be life threatening

When my husband catches a cold, he feels crummy for a few days. In my case, I am a bed-ridden mess that cannot function. And it goes on and on. Usually I feel better after a week, but colds can linger longer and then turn into walking pneumonia or other hard-to-defeat problems.
I’ve been on antibiotics, inhalers, nebulizers and other treatments to keep my lungs open. I’ve fought bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections, and other nasty things. Not only is it exhausting and no fun to be sick like that, it takes forever to make a full recovery.
I’m lucky that every time I have bounced back. But it has not been easy. During the last big battle I had to rest and found that I got tired of resting. I wanted to do things, but every time I tried a little bit of activity I had a setback. I just had to rest and take leave from work, let all the responsibilities sit on the sidelines for my return. I’m not good at this.
If you don’t have a compromised immune system or live with someone who does, I think it can be hard to understand the seriousness of this problem. A cold is not just an inconvenience, it can become life-threatening. I absolutely hate it when a coworker comes to work sick or even the people on public transit who may need to get where they are going, but yet are sharing all their germs with their fellow commuters. It feels like a personal assault, but I know that people make these choices without thinking about the potential consequences for those like me.
What I try to do, little by little, is explain my immune issues to others and practice what I preach. I do what I can to prevent catching bugs. When I am sick and contagious, I stay home. When others are sick around me, I try to keep a safe distance and explain why.
For me, a cold is not just a cold. And I just can’t take any chances.

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.


  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    2 years ago

    Oh I hate real person sick. I really hate real person sick.

  • mfs612
    2 years ago

    On this topic I can say from very recent experience that recovering from what I thought was a cold turned out to be kind of tricky. Just after Thanksgiving, I came down with what I hoped to be a common cold; but as this article discusses, I now know there’s more to a “common cold” than meets the eye while also dealing with R.A. I was diagnosed in 2014 with R.A. at age 60, but I’m fortunate that even though I’ve been prone to bronchial trouble all of my life, it wasn’t until last November that I got sick for the first time with what ended up as a long-lasting case of Bronchitis. The cough became so deep, and there were some scary breathing (or lack thereof) scenarios; but, five weeks or so later I finally felt recovered. A chest x-ray was done about ten days or so into this siege, to look for signs of Pneumonia, but it showed up as negative, thankfully. Two courses of antibiotics; nasal spray; inhalers, NSAIDS; and cough syrup with rest, rest, rest, FINALLY resulted in feeling more back to how I felt before this all hit. I have a flu shot every year, but this time around apparently the efficacy of it was reported to be poor. I also had had an Orencia infusion ten days before the Bronchitis episode, and I now know the doctor advises “no Biologics!!!” until I feel better. If I get clearance later this week from my doctor, then an infusion will be scheduled. I go once/month for an infusion, so since I missed a treatment in December because I had Bronchitis, it’ll be interesting to see how I do with this upcoming infusion. Biologic drugs can have a Side Effect of sinusitis and the like. Orencia has been helping me since I began using it last June…my hope is that Orencia wasn’t a contributing factor to coming down with the upper respiratory problem after Thanksgiving. Maybe it’ll turn out that the cross-country, round trip airplane ride for that holiday, along with encountering sniffling & coughing family members during our turkey dinner back east, will end up being the reasons I fell ill in time for the Christmas season. I see now more personally that an autoimmune disorder puts a different spin on the common cold. So, I’ll plan to travel differently in the future I guess, and I’ll have an additional reason to avoid the holiday crowds. But for now I’m very glad that I reside in Southern California, away from the difficult wintertime weather so many are dealing with … sending sunshine your way!!

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