I don’t mean to diminish the seriousness of our current flu epidemic, but I wanted to voice my opinion on this matter. As I wrote in my last blog, both my sons came down with severe flu symptoms over the weekend. They went to the pediatrician on Saturday morning, who basically told my wife that they had the flu and all they needed to do was to to stay well hydrated and give it time to go away. Needless to say, this infection has affected nearly every school (and parents) in dramatic ways. The good news is that my older son Jonas felt well enough to go on his end of the year class trip on Monday. My younger son Devin was feeling much better yesterday, but was not completely well enough to go to school today. Fortunately, my 4 month old Brennan hasn’t been affected…yet.
Officials do note that even if what my sons have is the Swine flu, it’s no worse than the typical flu that comes around this time of the year. What has made it worse, however, if the extreme state of panic and fear that the press has invoked, on top of the bad state of the economy. Stress can definitely make you more susceptible to infections, but not in the way that you think.
It’s known that in sudden stressful situations, your immune system is heightened, so you’re less prone to getting an infection. This makes sense since if you’re injured in battle, your immune system has to be on overdrive to heal all your wounds and prevent infection. Once the stress is gone, then your immune system goes back down to normal, but not without dipping below normal for a short while. This if the period when people get sick after an intensely stressful event. This also explains why people sometimes get sick on vacations when you’re more relaxed.
But if you have prolonged chronic stress, your immune system never comes back to normal. Your cortisol level (the stress hormone) is constantly elevated, and you’re going to be more prone to various kinds of infections.
I describe the sleep-breathing continuum in my book, Sleep, Interrupted, where your ability (or inability) to breathe properly at night while sleeping is directly proportional to how severe your symptoms will be if you catch any infection. The more narrow your upper breathing passageways, the same amount of inflammation that wouldn’t bother someone with larger airways will trigger a self-perpetuating cycle, leading to chronic or prolonged symptoms. So the more narrow your airways, the longer and more severe your flu symptoms, along with more secondary complications.
How about you? Do you get over colds or the flu very quickly, or does it usually last a long time?