Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Surviving Cold and Flu Season When You're Chronically Ill - Part One

Time flies when you are sick in bed!  January is over and I spent most of last month being sick with the flu or recovering from it. With this season's flu widespread in most states and an epidemic is some, I'm not the only one who has gotten or will get ill. So let me share with you my strategies for dealing with viral illnesses on top of my chronic ones.

Part One: Planning Ahead

Vaccines:  In the past, I have gotten both the yearly influenza and the one-time pneumococcal vaccination for the bacteria family that causes pneumonia, meningitis and septicemia.

I usually do O.K. with the influenza vaccine, except for one year when I developed a massive migraine headache afterwards.  That made me hesitant to get the shot the next year, so I skipped it.  I did muster up the courage to get vaccinated in 2011 and did O.K. once again.

This year, I was unable to get vaccinated in Fall 2012 for the current flu season because of other medical problems I was dealing with post Hepatitis C treatment.  Needless to say, once you get sick, getting the vaccine is pointless.

It is important to know that you should get vaccinated when you are feeling healthy and postpone the shot when you are sick.  There is a vaccine that is administered as a nasal spray that contains live virus (LAIV) and people living with certain health conditions like diabetes should not get this type of vaccination. Due to allergies and severe vaccine reactions, some people should not get vaccinated at all.  You can read more about flu shot precautions and contraindications at the CDC website.

Antiviral Medications:  There are antiviral medications available by prescription only to treat the flu.  They work best when taken within the first 48 hours of flu symptoms.  Which means you need to know what the symptoms of the flu are  and get in to see your doctor right away.  Better yet, talk to your doctor at the beginning of Fall, before flu season starts, and discuss having the medication, or a prescription for it, on hand just in case. Read more about antiviral medications for treating the flu at WebMD.

Sick Day Plan: If you live with diabetes, chances are your endocrinologist has already talked to you about developing a sick day plan.  This is also a good idea for the rest of us living with chronic illnesses too.  Creating a plan involves talking to your doctor about specific actions to take when you get sick.  Here are some question you might ask:
  • What symptoms are O.K. to treat with self-care at home and what symptoms need a doctor's attention?
  • What symptoms can be handled with a phone call and which ones need to be treated in the office, at the Urgent Care clinic or Emergency Room? 
  • What cold or flu remedies do I need to be avoided to prevent drug interactions?
  • Should I keep certain medications, like anti-nausea pills or suppositories, nasal sprays, inhalers and/or antiviral flu medication on hand?
  • Where should I go for medical care after-hours on the weekend and evenings?
Wash You Hands: The number one way to prevent getting the flu is to wash your hands, especially when you return from public places like the grocery store, restaurants and, yes, even your doctor's office.  The second is to train yourself not to touch you face with your hands, which is how the virus usually gets into your eyes, nose and mouth where it likes to hang out.

Stock Your Cupboards and Medicine Cabinet:  The last thing you want to do when you are sick is make a run to the drug or grocery store.  Make a point of checking on what cold remedies and fever reducers you have, especially the expiration dates, and make a list of what you need at the beginning of Fall.  You may also want to buy a stash of quick-to-prepare sick day foods like electrolyte replacement drinks, shelf-stable juices, tea, canned soups and crackers to have on hand as well.

Next time I'll discuss strategies for coping when you do get sick and how to get better as quickly as possible.

PLEASE NOTE:  The intent of this article is to provide general health education information and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.  When in doubt, consult your doctor for the care that is right for you.

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Rairy said...

Excellent advice. I also battled flu last month and was grateful it was not as bad as it could have been due to flu vax last fall and anti-viral meds started quickly after symptom onset.

It was helpful to learn from my doc what to expect. The cough and exhaustion have lingered far longer than I would have thought normal. It would have been a greater source of stress had I not been checking in with the nurse and receiving a realistic recovery timeline

Unknown said...

Hi Selena, I have enjoyed reading your blog.

I also blog about my journey with RA


Have a look :) x