|"Crash days" on the couch for me this week!|
The title of this post is my own term for those ME/CFS crashes that occur from being exposed to a virus. In our experience, these are the worst kind of crashes and often last the longest, usually much worse than crashes from over-exertion for my son and I.
This happened to me this week. I spent Easter weekend with 12 other family members, staying in one house for 3 days. So, when I woke up Monday morning with a killer sore throat and feeling horrible, I assumed I had done too much over the weekend. However, crashes due to over-exertion are rare for me now and don't last long (these treatments are why), and when my throat still hurt severely Tuesday and then Wednesday, I guessed that I'd probably been exposed to a virus.
Why Do Viruses Cause Crashes?
Briefly, the specific kind of immune dysfunction that research has shown to be characteristic in ME/CFS makes our immune systems under-react to bacteria but over-respond to allergens and viruses. So, we tend to be extra-prone to catching bacterial infections--like bronchitis, strep, and sinus infections--but we rarely catch viruses, like colds or the flu. However, just being exposed to a virus makes our immune systems over-react with typical immune symptoms, like sore throat, flu-like aches, and feeling feverish (as well as exhaustion, of course). All of this is explained in more detail in this post on Immune System Abnormalities in ME/CFS.
Often, the resulting crash is much worse than if we had actually caught the virus like a normal, healthy person. In the past, crashing from exposure to a virus could easily last weeks or even months for my son and I and was a huge problem for both of us in the fall and winter especially.
So, what can you do to prevent and treat virally-induced crashes?
Preventing Virally-Induced Crashes
As my son and I have treated our immune dysfunction over the years and worked hard to normalize our immune systems, we have both been delighted to discover that those crashes caused by exposure to viruses have greatly decreased. We used to both spend much of the winter couch-bound due to all the viruses floating around, but now, virally-induced crashes are rare for both of us. That's why I was so surprised this week when it happened to me (but, to be fair, I was surrounded by lots of kids in school and young adults living in dorms this weekend!).
The key to preventing these kinds of virally-induced crashes is to treat the immune dysfunction that is at the heart of ME/CFS. These treatments have the potential to improve ALL ME/CFS symptoms, since immune dysfunction is central to the disease, but we have found one of the biggest benefits to be reducing our bodies' over-reaction to viruses. This blog post, Treating Immune System Dysfunction in ME/CFS, explains how two different treatments - inosine and low-dose naltrexone - have greatly helped my son and I to reduce those virally-induced crashes. Of the two approaches, inosine has probably helped the most in this regard--we both saw a huge decrease in virally-induced crashes and eliminated that winter slump when we started inosine. Bonus: inosine has also greatly helped my allergies, again by helping to normalize my immune response. Here are more details on Treating ME/CFS with Inosine (it is a cheap and readily available supplement). Glutathione injections or nasal spray have further improved our immune systems. Since starting twice-weekly injections, I have gone from getting bronchitis 4-5 times a year to going over 18 months without getting it at all!
Treating Virally-Induced Crashes When They Occur
OK, so crashes due to exposure to a virus have become rare for me now (I even caught a cold in January like a normal person!), but they do still occur once in a while, like this week. When that happens, we keep up the immune system treatments, as described above, but add in some extra supplements.
At the first sign of a virus--in my ME/CFS son or I or in my husband and younger son, who are healthy--we load up on herbal antivirals. My older son and I already take Olive Leaf Extract and Emulsified Oil of Oregano (regular oregano can upset the stomach) daily, alternating them, to help us both with viruses and Lyme disease as well as chronic yeast overgrowth and exposure to viruses. Both of those herbals are potent antivirals, antibacterials, and antifungals.
When I have been exposed to a virus and/or have crashed from virus exposure, I usually add in Monolaurin (a component of coconut) and L-lysine, both potent antivirals, as well as extra Olive Leaf Extract. (Note that L-lysine's antiviral properties are specific to herpes-family viruses, but since most of us have those and they get reactivated when our immune systems are dysfunctional, it can help those with ME/CFS.) I generally alternate them--L-lysine on day 1, Monolaurin on day 2, extra Olive Leaf on day 3, etc. Dosing depends partly on the brand you get (those linked above are good quality and adequate dosing), but I take up to 6 tablets of L-lysine a day, up to 3 capsules of Monolaurin a day, and up to 6 capsules of Olive Leaf a day. Remember that these are just temporary, while I am feeling the effects of exposure to a virus and/or fighting one off.
When I actually caught a cold in January (a rare occurrence!), I added in zinc lozenges and/or zinc nasal swabs, which studies have shown can reduce the severity and length of a cold. If my son or I have ANY congestion at all, we also take Mucinex, maximum-strength (1200 mg) every 12 hours - this thins mucus and helps to prevent bacterial infections like bronchitis and sinus infections from developing, which are the real dangers for us (that link to Mucinex on Amazon is the lowest price I have found anywhere!). Wherever you buy Mucinex, be sure to read the package carefully because they make versions that include extras, like decongestant, or have lower doses or are shorter-acting.
If you do develop a bacterial infection--chest tightness or cough for bronchitis or severe sinus congestion that lingers for a sinus infection--then you must see a doctor as soon as possible and get on antibiotics. Since our immune dysfunction makes us extra-susceptible to bacterial infections, it's important to treat them immediately before they develop into more serious infections, like pneumonia. Most doctors will look for high fever with any of these infections, but since temperature regulation is also dysfunctional in ME/CFS, you may not have a fever. My son and I have a "normal" body temperature of about 97.5 F, which is typical for those with ME/CFS, so a temperature of 99 F is actually a fever for us, and a fever above 100 F is rare. Unless we get to see our regular doctor who understands ME/CFS, we have to explain this every single time to whichever doctor is in the rotation that day for sick visits (we also explain the immune dysfunction that makes us more prone to bacterial infections). Be aware that you may have to educate your doctor--you know your body better than anyone.
So, to spend less time in bed or on the couch and more time living your life, first work on normalizing your immune system by treating immune dysfunction. Then, when you do crash from being exposed to a virus, take extra herbal antivirals to help your body fight it off.
And me? Today is Thursday, and I am definitely doing better than the past three days this week. I am still nowhere near my normal functioning level, but I am using my laptop (reclined in bed), compared to yesterday at this time when I was flat on my back with my eyes closed. Best of all, my sore throat was gone when I woke up this morning, a sure sign in ME/CFS that I am feeling better. I will continue to take the extra antivirals and rest more until I am back to my usual self.
Below are links to the products that we like best. Some of these might be found in local drugstores or health food stores (though likely more expensive and possibly poorer quality) and some are less common and need to be purchased online. The A.D.P. is an emulsified oil of oregano that our Lyme doctor recommended years ago, and we still use. We couldn't take regular oregano capsules, as they upset our stomachs.