Immunosuppressed in the Pacific Northwest

I had another topic planned for my post, but it seemed strange not to talk about the virus that currently has our lives held hostage here in Washington State and all over the world. Since many uveitis patients are on treatments that work by suppressing the immune system, diligence when it comes to health and not getting sick is never far from our minds. However, now with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the immunocompromised are a living buzzword, seemingly surviving at the mercy of others.

When the immune system is suppressed or compromised, it makes the body more susceptible to infection and/or more susceptible to a more severe or long-lasting reaction to an infection (If You’re Immunocompromised, You Are at a Higher Risk of Coronavirus—Here’s What That Means).

This is what I’m doing to protect myself and my family.

Avoidance – Social Distancing

I go through my day and see what I can and am willing to change to better protect myself. Some folks are completely self-isolating/quarantining, but I don’t feel the need to do this per se. I have continued to shop, albeit choosing local, smaller shops (who desperately need support right now!) for the most part. Take advantage of curbside and in-store pickups where physical interactions can be limited. Starting March 17th, this will be the only option for restaurants in Washington State.

Even simple changes in your routine can make a difference. For example, at my place of employment, probably a quarter of the employees are female. So, I have decided to not to use any unisex restrooms to cut down on my chances of contracting the virus in the bathroom.

Social events and travel plans have been canceled or postponed for us. We are mostly staying around the house, going on walks and bike rides to get fresh air.

And of course, washing my hands and my sons’ hands for 20-30 seconds every time we return home, use the bathroom, etc. Daycare is still on for them at this time, so we scrub, scrub, scrub!

Treatment Plan – Medications

Recently, my uveitis has become active once again and I started CellCept (mycophenalate) and a pulse of prednisone, both of which suppress my immune system. The timing.. not so great. My husband and I have driven into Seattle every two weeks for the past month and a half to attempt to get my uveitis back under control. Last Friday, my doctor injected an Ozurdex (intravitreal steroid implant blog post here) so that I can start to taper down the prednisone while the CellCept ramps up (hopefully) to full efficacy. Talk to your doctor about changes you can make in your treatment, if any, to lower the dose of systemic medications.

It’s also a good idea to get a bit of a stockpile of medication in case of shortages or the need for isolation. Talk to your insurance company. I’ve found that my insurance will cover a 90-day supply online (https://www.express-scripts.com/), whereas only a 30-day supply at my local pharmacy is covered.

Have a conversation with your doctor about a plan for if you are exposed to or contract the coronavirus. This is important. Despite best efforts, many of us will contract this virus; there is no shame or blame to be had. Contact your doctor right away if you are experiencing symptoms.

Diet and Supplements

One of the most important factors in your body’s ability to respond is what you feed it. Now is a great time to work on adding in more of the “good stuff.”

Boost the body’s natural detoxification systems with:

Cruciferous vegetables – at least 1 cup daily – including broccoli, kale, collards, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower

Garlic cloves – 2 to 3 every day (or take a garlic supplement)

Organic green tea in the morning instead of coffee

Fresh vegetable juices – including celery, cilantro, parsley, and ginger

Prepared herbal detoxification teas containing a mixture of burdock root, dandelion root, ginger root, licorice root, sarsaparilla root, cardamom seed, cinnamon bark, and other herbs

High-quality, sulfur-containing proteins including eggs, grass-fed whey protein, garlic, and onions

Bioflavonoids which are found in berries and citrus fruits

Celery to increase urine flow and aid in detoxification

Cilantro 

Rosemary, which contains carnosol, a potent booster of detoxification enzymes

Curcuminoids (turmeric and curry) for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action

Burdock root 

Chlorophyll found in dark-green leafy vegetables and in wheatgrass

Avoid simple sugars. Sugar and refined grains that turn into sugar can suppress your immune system. Stick to real, whole, fresh foods. Limit refined sugar and flour. 

Supplement with Vitamin C. 

“Mark’s Picks,” Mark Hyman, MD. March 13, 2020

Other immune system boosting supplements are Vitamin D and Elderberry. Always talk to your doctor and check interactions with medications and other supplements before starting something new. See the Healthy Vision page for more diet information.

Sleep

Telling someone to get adequate sleep while on prednisone during a pandemic is a bit like telling them to “sleep when the baby sleeps” (and do laundry when the baby does laundry ;)). Sort of an oxymoron from my perspective. None the less, the body repairs itself while sleeping and deep sleep is vital to the immune system. Force yourself to stop scrolling through your feed of out-of-your-control news (ideally 30-60 minutes before lights out) and get to bed.

Personally, while on any dose higher than 10mg of prednisone, I take melatonin an hour before bed every other night (let’s be honest, every night lately). There have even been studies that melatonin may be beneficial in reducing inflammation associated with uveitis, so if it works for you, that’s a win, win! Melatonin as a Therapeutic Resource for Inflammatory Visual Diseases (2017); Treatment with melatonin after onset of experimental uveitis attenuates ocular inflammation (2014); Melatonin May Save Eyesight In Inflammatory Disease, Study Suggests (2008).

Lifestyle

Continue to move your body and get exercise! If I am feeling a bit under the weather, I make sure to take it easy and walk or do at home yoga instead of more intense weights at the gym when I’m on immunosuppressants (my gym avoidance will start this week). Sweat out toxins in a hot bath. Use a diffuser or apply essential oils to calm and support the immune system (4 Aromatherapy Recipes to Boost Your Immune System). Use extra time at home to work on or start a hobby. Or just sit and relax. I’m choosing lighthearted reading and media for pleasure when the news is so heavy.

Being informed, but limiting news and social media exposure is usually what I aim for, but especially now when a simple click can lead down a path I may be emotionally unprepared for at any given time. There are plenty of articles about How To Calm Your Anxiety About The Coronavirus.

Stay safe and stay connected even when not possible physically. It takes a village to save the village; encourage those you love to be socially responsible. Do what you can do, and that is all you can do.

Update: 3/17/2020 – As the number of confirmed cases in my area continue to increase, I am now working from home and my sons are at home as well. Things are changing fast and it’s been an emotional week (and it’s only Tuesday!). Thankful for the ability to work from home.

Related links:

UW Medicine COVID-19 Patient Question and Answer Page

How to prevent feeling totally isolated in the time of social distancing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s