Finding the Balance: Meds vs Disease
Some medications used to treat psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis aim to calm the patient’s overactive immune system. It would be great if these meds would work just well enough to bring the immune system back in balance. This doesn’t always happen. Either the meds don’t work well enough and the angry skin and joints win out, or the meds are too strong and the immune system becomes weak.
Think of your immune system like a teeter-totter: disease on one side and medications on the other. Before treatment, the immune system is out of balance with the disease side pushed high, and it’s wreaking havoc on the playground. It’s loud, obnoxious and very irritating. Skin and joints are not happy at all.
To balance the teeter-totter immune system, doctors prescribe medicines to bring the disease side back down to a manageable height. It would be great if the teeter-totter stopped right in middle. Unfortunately, finding this balance can be difficult. Sometimes the medications go too far the other way, sending the medication side high and compromising the immune system.
Our compromised immune systems
It may seem like having the psoriatic disease stuck at the bottom of the teeter-totter is a good thing, but it’s important to remember that this could come with a cost: You may get sicker more often and have a more difficult time getting rid the germs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a cold that might last a week in a healthy person could last much longer in a patient with a suppressed immune system. Also, colds may turn into something more serious – like pneumonia.
Taking medications while fighting infections
In our house, getting colds were never the issue. My son would get infections in his nose, and I am prone to staph infections. Both of us get strep throat at least once a year. I’ve even been lucky enough to get shingles and mono.
Depending on your medication, your history of getting sick, and the advice of your doctor, you may need to discontinue certain medications while you fight infections. Coming off these meds might give your immune system a boost so you can effectively fight the germs.
It’s important to check with your doctor if you get sick. My son’s doctor would keep him on his biologic unless he had a fever greater than 100.5°F, while my doctor would halt my biologic for almost any signs of infection.
Another problem we’ve encountered is that our biologic is taken every three months. That means that there is little we can do to boost our immune system to fight any germs if we get sick between our three-month injections.
Germs are gone, flare is on
As an added bonus, after getting over the cold or infection, your disease might flare. Usually strep infections trigger flares of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis for my son and I. Just when you think you have your disease under control – WHAM! It’s back and you’re starting back at square one again. Hopefully, this time, you can start back on your medications to get the disease in check more quickly.
Keeping the germs away
If you find that having a weaker immune system is worth the alternative – very active psoriatic arthritis disease – then, consider taking these precautions from the CDC to help keep the germs away:
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Wash your hands with soap and water – Do it often. This cannot be overstated. And from personal experience, if you have psoriasis, be sure to moisturize after washing to keep your skin from getting too dry.)
- Get a flu vaccine each year. Be sure to check with your doctor because some patients cannot take live vaccines. For my son and I on biologic medication, we cannot take the nasal spray vaccine because it is live.
- Stay away from sick people – Easier said than done, especially if you work with children or in a large office setting.
- Disinfect germy surfaces.