How to Cope With Colds & Chronic Illness

It’s been 84 years and I can still smell the fresh paint… No, just kidding. But it has been at least 2.5 years (possibly longer) since I had the common cold. Clearly the social distancing and masks and everything not only helped protect me from Covid (which I have managed to avoid thus far) but also the cold, flu and everything else. Then, on May 2, I caught a cold. Sore throat and all. And it was pretty bad. For me, it’s worse because of one of my chronic illnesses.

Life with chronic illness.

Getting any kind of additional illness usually sucks when you have a chronic condition. Example, if you have an autoimmune disease and you’re on immunosuppressants, that can also make you much more vulnerable to more severe illness and symptoms. It’s one of the reasons most people I know with chronic conditions have been so careful during the pandemic. Lucky for me, I’m not on immunosuppressants (I take antimalarials) so I don’t have to worry as much about that part, but still. What I do have that makes catching a cold particularly rough for me is glaucoma. Glaucoma is a degenerative eye disease that can eventually lead to blindness (luckily there are amazing treatments so the chances of going blind if caught early and treated are fairly small). My paternal grandmother had glaucoma and was virtually blind by the time she died. Both of my parents have glaucoma. And when I was 29 I was diagnosed with glaucoma, which is incredibly young (most people are 50+ when they develop it). The leading feature of glaucoma is high eye pressure.

So on May 2, before I started having cold symptoms, I actually happened to have an appointment with my new ophthalmologist. My eye pressure was pretty good and there was no degeneration. He actually made two comments that I found quite funny. First, “You are extremely near-sighted.” Yes, I know (that’s literally how I responded too). He actually informed me about possibilities of retinal tears, and what to look out for. His second funny comment, “Well, I guess we’ll be seeing you from now until indefinitely.” Yep, pretty much true. So, why is catching a cold worse when you have glaucoma. Well, over-the-counter cold medications actually increase your eye pressure. Therefore, I can’t take cold meds (other than cough drops).

Okay, so what happens to me when I can’t take cold meds and have a bad cold is that I get extremely wimpy. Basically life sucks for a few days. Unless I catch myself in these thought patterns, which is what I did recently. I know that “this sucks” and “everything is terrible” thoughts leads to more negative mental and physical health outcomes. It increases body aches and pains, it can keep me sick longer, and it can make me feel depressed (and there’s lots of research out there to back all of this – just type a few key words into Google Scholar and you’ll find it). To be effective I had to “manage my mind” (which is a phrase a life coach who’s podcast I listen to uses). I notice the thoughts, place them on a leaf and let them go. Or I notice and name the thoughts or name the story my thoughts are trying to tell me to create some distance. And then I take comfort in pleasurable activities that I can do. For example, I love movies and being sick is an excuse to watch them. But I don’t just pick any movie. I have some favourites that I used to watch all the time as a kid when I was sick… and then continued to watch into my adulthood when I’m sick. My favourite is Jurassic Park. So that’s what I did. I created distance between myself and my thoughts, acknowledged any emotions I was experiencing, made some tea and watched JP.

The other thing I did recently that was helpful, was talk to my ND about natural cold remedies. Now, I’m lucky in that I work at the same office as my ND (we actually share a room, just work on different days), so for me it’s a quick text and I realize that’s not the case for everyone. But if you see a naturopath, it’s worth asking about. Here are some suggestions she gave me for the common cold (sinus and cough):

  • Vitamin C: amount can depend on your bowel tolerance – I bought the chewables and used about 3g per day.
  • NAC supplement – I think you have to go to a natural health store to find these. I didn’t try them this time, but I’m keeping it in mind for the future.
  • Peppermint tea – which I love anyway, and interestingly it’s the only type of tea she recommended
  • Eucalyptus inhale: basically boiling water with some essential oils and inhaling with a towel over your head – I found this extremely helpful
  • wet stock treatment – I did not try this because my feet hate the cold, but apparently it is very effective.

Alas, I survived my first cold in 2.5 years and realized that the best things for me to do is use some natural remedies paired with some psychological coping skills. If you’re like me and unable to take cold medication, I hope this helps you to keep making the most of it!

Eye Health

I truly hope most you haven’t and don’t ever experience problems with your eye health, because those just additional chronic illnesses that no one needs (not that anyone needs ANY chronic illness in the first place, but you know what I mean!). Eye health problems usually become more frequent as we age, so typically you see people fifty and older with them. I have always laughed because whenever I have seen my ophthalmologist, I’m always the youngest person in the waiting room (I’m sure my younger brother feels the same way too). Now when I talk about eye health, I’m not necessarily meaning poor eyesight and thus needing to wear glasses. That’s quite common. What I mean is having some kind of eye disease or illness – cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, etc.

IMG_7994 2My glasses prescription is also pretty strong but I typically wear contacts so you’d never know.

To give you some context, both of my parents have glaucoma. My paternal grandmother also had glaucoma and was legally blind for several years before she died. My father has had surgery on his eyes, and both my parents have had laser treatments and eye drops. They were also both diagnosed older. However, because glaucoma is hereditary, my brother and I have always seen an ophthalmologist so that we can be tested yearly “just in case.” For me, just in case turned out to be an actual thing shortly after my 29th birthday. My eye pressure in both eyes was too high, and I subsequently had laser treatment to bring down the pressure. I ended up having the treatment twice that summer and then it became suitable.

IMG_7995 2How I learned the basics of glaucoma back in the day – informational posters at the ophthalmologist’s office.

Now, in the 6 years since, I have not had high eye pressure again, though it continues to be monitored yearly. Cannabis has shown to have mixed results in studies using it for glaucoma but using it for chronic pain is one of the lifestyle changes I have made in the past four years. Is this helping keep my eye pressure down? I don’t know but it’s interesting to consider. Like all other aspects of my health, keeping on top of it is something I do, which is as simple as making sure I see my ophthalmologist as frequently as she suggests. Understanding anything you are predisposed to is also an essential part of taking care of your health, so getting tested regularly for those things is something I highly recommend!

IMG_7996 2Getting tested regularly for any health issues is an essential part of being a chronic illness warrior!