When a Simple Cold Triggers a Flare

I felt like I got hit by a train. All my muscles ached and refused to move, and my fatigue was so bad I was dragging myself out of bed. It wasn't the flu, strep, or even COVID. Nope, it was just a simple case of the common cold. And boy did it hurt.

Growing up and going to school with juvenile psoriatic arthritis, I know firsthand that being sick specifically with PsA is simply put, no fun. Miraculously, I didn't catch every cold going around, but the times I did were pretty intense. When my classmates would walk around a little stuffed up, I would walk around looking like the walking dead.

How can a cold trigger a psoriatic arthritis flare?

Any number of things can cause a PsA flare. This includes injury, overactivity, certain foods, hormones, illness... the list goes on. Sometimes I forget that an illness doesn't just mean the flu or something serious. Just a little cold can make your immune system become overactive and go a little haywire, causing your PsA flare-up.

How does PsA complicate getting sick?

Plus, as someone who lives with PsA, I've found it often takes longer to get over a cold than most people (like when my classmates would get 3-day colds and I'd be getting back to normal the following week).

Even if a cold doesn't cause you to flare up, you might still feel it more than the next person. Cold symptoms like muscle aches on top of existing arthritis pain can be plain awful. Not to mention, a cold may cause a double-whammy of fatigue, brain fog, and that overall "blah" feeling.

Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do to shorten a cold or make it less severe. Of course, you should always call your doctor for advice if you take certain medications or have a high fever or other alarming symptoms. But like everyone else, you probably have to ride it out, though it would be wise to plan for extra rest if possible.

How have I tried to keep my immune system healthy?

Knowing that a cold can easily make life miserable, I'm a little more careful than others. Others have accused me of coddling my immune system. And I suppose I do, to the outside eye.

But for me, it's just being careful to make sure I'm not getting sick and flaring up too often. When using some medicines, I sometimes (but not always) catch colds easier and feel their effects for longer.

That said, I don't let the fear stop my life. Of course, coping with the pandemic has been a completely different story. But in the past, I accepted that regular colds and flu season are (unfortunately) a part of life. While I would love to live in my little bubble, it's not practical.

I rode on the subway most days, though I avoided peak hours like the plague. I ate in restaurants often but avoided eating foods that are more likely to be exposed to germs, such as having lemon in my water or utilizing salad bars. And I washed my hands frequently through the day but didn't obsess over it. And one day, I'll likely do all these things again.

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