What Happens When You Have Myasthenia Gravis and Get Sick?

Catching a cold or the flu presents a whole host of additional concerns

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by Shawna Barnes |

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Neon green snot runs out of my nose and down the back of my throat. A cough sounds like I’ve been smoking two packs of nonfiltered cigarettes a day. Exhaustion hits a bit differently than it normally does. My eyes are sunken.

Crap. I’m normal people sick.

Defining degrees of illness

When you live with a chronic health condition like myasthenia gravis (MG), it becomes a necessity to categorize various degrees of sickness. Why? Because it affects how my husband and I plan our days and whether I need to put my care team on alert.

Since moving to Wisconsin and finding a treatment plan that helps me manage my myasthenia gravis mischief, my day includes learning how to balance living again without causing a setback.

On days when I push a little harder and move that proverbial health line in the sand, my illness is exacerbated. Exacerbated simply means that I’m seeing more symptoms. My right eye might be drooping a smidge, for example, or my voice might be hoarse, or my legs might feel heavy and weak. That’s one degree of illness.

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On days when I look and feel like complete hell — with full-on facial drooping, a dysphagia diet, limited mobility, and a need for assistance from my husband to stand up from furniture (including the toilet) — I consider my illness to be flaring. That’s another degree.

And when you add on a viral cold or other illness on top of the autoimmune disease? When you take immunosuppressants and know that as a result, the virus that hangs on to most people for two weeks will be your BFF for at least a month? Well, that’s a degree of illness all its own.

I have lots of choice words to explain how I really feel about it, but let’s just call it “FUBAR.” Those who know, know. And those of you who’d like to know, feel free to use that search engine to look it up. It’s one of my favorite acronyms from my Army days.

But I digress.

Illness and MG

So what happens when I’m “normal people sick”? In the past, my myasthenia gravis would be somewhere in between an exacerbation of symptoms and full-on flaring. It would trigger my body to fight itself while it attempted to battle the foreign invaders despite my weakened immune system. One thing I always worry about is the illness moving into my lungs and causing an uncontrollable cough.

Coughing is bad for me, as it fatigues my diaphragm and can result in respiratory distress, which can then lead to respiratory failure. Respiratory failure is the hallmark sign of a myasthenia gravis crisis, which is something I clearly want to avoid.

I drink lots of tea (Earl Grey is my tea of choice) with honey, lemon, and a smidge of ginger. I take a garlic supplement because it is one of the few immune boosters that doesn’t cause an exacerbation of symptoms. I sleep as much as my body tells me it needs to. And I hydrate.

Hydration is important because it helps to thin out the mucus and other crap that inevitably lands in the upper bronchioles from postnasal drip and the viral response itself. Being properly hydrated also helps the body operate more efficiently.

And yes, I also rely on over-the-counter meds. Theraflu is one that works well for me.

Rest. Rest. Rest.

One of the things I struggle with is lying on the couch all day for days on end, which often leads to weeks. When I get sick, especially with a virus, it is almost guaranteed that I will have it for two or three times longer than everyone else. Knowing that a virus might stick around for five or six weeks means five or six weeks of lying on the couch or sitting in my chair, unable to help with the few chores I’m usually able to help with.

It also means that my husband, who is also my caregiver, is on high alert. When I get sick like this, we do chest percussion to help me get the crap out of my lungs.

Being sick is hard on both of us. So I do what I can to improve my chances of getting better as soon as possible. That includes allowing myself grace for the enormous amounts of rest that is required by my body.

What do you do when you get “normal people sick”? Please share in the comments below. 

Note: Myasthenia Gravis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Myasthenia Gravis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to myasthenia gravis.


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