Getting Through Cold and Flu Season with Crohn’s Disease

Getting Through Cold and Flu Season with Crohn’s Disease

cold and flu

This past week or so, I have been plagued by a nasty cold. My sickness got me thinking about cold and flu season with Crohn’s disease and IBD.

Most Crohn’s patients manage their disease with some form of medication: steroids, immunosuppressants, immunomodulators, antibiotics, biologics, or another type. These medications can suppress your immune system, making it harder to fight off viruses such as colds or the flu, and increasing the risk of developing pneumonia. Patients with IBD and other chronic conditions are more likely to get sick, and these illnesses can last longer than the “normal” few days. And when IBD patients get sick, they really get sick.

The common cold may last a few days, but for patients with Crohn’s disease or otherwise weakened immune systems, it can persist for weeks and even lead to a flare-up of IBD symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests taking these precautions to avoid illness: wash your hands, wear a face mask when visiting your doctor’s office or hospital, dress appropriately for the weather, and avoid those who are sick.

Get a flu shot

The flu, or influenza, is a viral infection, and though it shares some symptoms with the common cold, with the flu they are more severe. While an annual flu shot is recommended for most people, IBD patients should be mindful of their suppressed immune systems, which make them more susceptible to infections. IBD patients should get their flu shot as early as possible. My doctors have advised me that I can only get the flu shot, as the nasal spray flu vaccine is a live vaccine — a no-no for those with IBD.

Tackling the common cold

As I’ve mentioned, I have been sick with a cold. I have a runny nose and cold sores and have been coughing and sneezing. I have had a fever, with chills, and experienced nausea and vomiting. My sister and her toddlers visited for Thanksgiving and were a “little sick.” Well, my body took the illness and ran with it, and I have been sick ever since. I’ve hardly left the house except for a visit to my primary care doctor and two trips to the pharmacy.

My doctor was reluctant to give me antibiotics as she didn’t think my sickness was bacterial. I have already taken several courses of antibiotics this year to treat infections. Excessive use of antibiotics increases the risk of developing Clostridium difficile, and those with Crohn’s and other immune-related diseases are particularly vulnerable. Contracting this bacterium will likely require hospitalization and lead to further complications.

So my doctor decided to put me on cold medication and Tylenol (acetaminophen) with codeine to help lower my fever and relieve my cough at nighttime. I have been drinking a lot of clear liquids and resting as much as possible.

While there is no cure for a common cold, medication and rest help to ease symptoms. Talk to your doctor about taking over-the-counter medications. You should call your doctor if your symptoms last longer than a few days or start to worsen.

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