Allergic To The World: Can Medicine Help People With Severe Intolerance To Chemicals

Sharon calls herself a universal reactor. In the 1990s, she became allergic to the world, to the mould colonising her home and the paint coating her kitchen walls, but also deodorants, soaps and anything containing plastic. Public spaces rife with artificial fragrances were unbearable. Scented disinfectants and air fresheners in hospitals made visiting doctors torture. The pervasiveness of perfumes and colognes barred her from in-person social gatherings.

Even stepping into her own back garden was complicated by the whiff of pesticides and her neighbour’s laundry detergent sailing through the air. When modern medicine failed to identify the cause of Sharon’s illness, exiting society felt like her only solution. She started asking her husband to strip and shower every time he came home. Grandchildren greeted her through a window. When we met for the first time, Sharon had been housebound for more than six years.

When I started medical school, the formaldehyde-based solutions used to embalm the cadavers in the human anatomy labs would cause my nose to burn and my eyes to well up – representing the mild, mundane end of a chemical sensitivity spectrum. The other extreme of the spectrum is an environmental intolerance of unknown cause (referred to as idiopathic by doctors) or, as it is commonly known, multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).

An official definition of MCS does not exist because the condition is not recognised as a distinct medical entity by the World Health Organization or the American Medical Association, although it has been recognised as a disability in countries such as Germany and Canada.

Disagreement over the validity of the disease is partially due to the lack of a distinct set of signs and symptoms, or an accepted cause. When Sharon reacts, she experiences symptoms from seemingly every organ system, from brain fog to chest pain, diarrhoea, muscle aches, depression and odd rashes. There are many different triggers for MCS, sometimes extending beyond chemicals to food and even electromagnetic fields. Consistent physical findings and reproducible lab results have not been found and, as a result, people such as Sharon not only endure severe, chronic illness but also scrutiny over whether their condition is “real”.

The first reported case of MCS was published in the Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine in 1952 by the American allergist Theron Randolph. Although he claimed to have previously encountered 40 cases, Randolph chose to focus on the story of one woman, 41-year-old Nora Barnes. She had arrived at Randolph’s office at Northwestern University in Illinois with a diverse and bizarre array of symptoms.

A former cosmetics salesperson, she represented an “extreme case”. She was always tired, her arms and legs were swollen, and headaches and intermittent blackouts ruined her ability to work. A doctor had previously diagnosed her with hypochondria, but Barnes was desperate for a “real” diagnosis.

Randolph noted that the drive into Chicago from Michigan had worsened her symptoms, which spontaneously resolved when she checked into her room on the 23rd floor of a hotel where, Randolph reasoned, she was far away from the noxious motor exhaust filling the streets. In fact, in his report Randolph listed 30 substances that Barnes reacted to when touched (nylon, nail polish), ingested (aspirin, food dye), inhaled (perfume, the “burning of pine in fireplace”) and injected (the synthetic opiate meperidine, and Benadryl).

He posited that Barnes and his 40 other patients were sensitive to petroleum products in ways that defied the classic clinical picture of allergies. That is, rather than an adverse immune response, such as hives or a rash where the body is reacting to a particular antigen, patients with chemical sensitivities were displaying an intolerance. Randolph theorised that, just as people who are lactose-intolerant experience abdominal pain, diarrhoea and gas because of undigested lactose creating excess fluid in their gastrointestinal tract, his patients were vulnerable to toxicity at relatively low concentrations of certain chemicals that they were unable to metabolise.

He even suggested that chemical sensitivity research was being suppressed by “the ubiquitous distribution of petroleum and wood products”. MCS, he believed, was not only a matter of scientific exploration, but also of deep-seated corporate interest. Randolph concludes his report with his recommended treatment: avoidance of exposure.

In that one-page abstract, Randolph cut the ribbon on the completely novel but quickly controversial field of environmental medicine. Nowadays, we hardly question the ties between the environment and wellbeing. The danger of secondhand smoke, the realities of climate change and the endemic nature of respiratory maladies such as asthma are common knowledge. The issue was that Randolph’s patients lacked abnormal test results (specifically, diagnostic levels of immunoglobulin E, a blood marker that is elevated during an immune response). Whatever afflicted them were not conventional allergies, so conventional allergists resisted Randolph’s hypotheses.

Randolph was in the dark. Why was MCS only now rearing its head? He also asked another, more radical question: why did this seem to be a distinctly American phenomenon? After all, the only other mention of chemical sensitivities in medical literature was in the US neurologist George Miller Beard’s 1880 textbook A Practical Treatise on Nervous Exhaustion (Neurasthenia).

Beard argued that sensitivity to foods containing alcohol or caffeine was associated with neurasthenia, a now-defunct term used to describe the exhaustion of the nervous system propagated by the US’s frenetic culture of productivity. Like Beard, Randolph saw chemical sensitivities as a disease of modernity, and conceived the origin as wear-and-tear as opposed to overload.

Randolph proposed that Americans, propelled by the post-second world war boom, had encountered synthetic chemicals more and more in their workplaces and homes, at concentrations considered acceptable for most people. Chronic exposure to these subtoxic dosages, in conjunction with genetic predispositions, strained the body and made patients vulnerable. On the back of this theory, Randolph developed a new branch of medicine and, with colleagues, founded the Society for Clinical Ecology, now known as the American Academy of Environmental Medicine.

As his professional reputation teetered, his popularity soared and patients flocked to his care. Despite this growth in interest, researchers never identified blood markers in MCS patients, and trials found that people with MCS couldn’t differentiate between triggers and placebos. By 2001, a review in the Journal of Internal Medicine found MCS virtually nonexistent outside western industrialised countries, despite the globalisation of chemical use, suggesting that the phenomenon was culturally bound.

MCS subsequently became a diagnosis of exclusion, a leftover label used after every other possibility was eliminated. The empirical uncertainty came to a head in 2021, when Quebec’s public health agency, the INSPQ, published an 840-page report that reviewed more than 4,000 articles in the scientific literature, concluding that MCS is an anxiety disorder.

In medicine, psychiatric disorders are not intrinsically inferior; serious mental illness is, after all, the product of neurological dysfunction. But the MCS patients I spoke to found the language offensive and irresponsible. Reducing what they felt in their eyes, throats, lungs and guts to anxiety was not acceptable at all.

As a woman I will call Judy told me: “I would tell doctors my symptoms, and then they’d run a complete blood count and tell me I looked fine, that it must be stress, so they’d shove a prescription for an antidepressant in my face and tell me to come back in a year.” In fact, because MCS is so stigmatising, such patients may never receive the level of specialised care they need.

In the wake of her “treatment”, Judy was frequently bedbound from crushing fatigue, and no one took her MCS seriously. “I think a lot of doctors fail to understand that we are intelligent,” she said. “A lot of us with chemical sensitivities spend a good amount of our time researching and reading scientific articles and papers. I probably spent more of my free time reading papers than most doctors.”

Judy grew up in Texas, where she developed irritable bowel syndrome and was told by doctors that she was stressed. Her 20s were spent in Washington state where she worked as a consultant before a major health crash left her bedbound for years (again, the doctors said she was stressed). Later, after moving to Massachusetts, a new paint job at her home gave her fatigue and diarrhoea.

She used to browse the local art museum every Saturday, but even fumes from the paintings irritated her symptoms. She visited every primary care doctor in her city, as well as gastroenterologists, cardiologists, neurologists, endocrinologists and even geneticists. Most of them reacted the same way: with a furrowed brow and an antidepressant prescription in hand. “Not one allopathic doctor has ever been able to help me,” Judy said.

Morton Teich is one of the few physicians who diagnoses and treats patients with MCS in New York. The entrance to his integrative medicine private practice is hidden away behind a side door in a grey-brick building on Park Avenue. As I entered the waiting room, the first thing to catch my eye was the monstrous mountain of folders and binders precariously hugging a wall, in lieu of an electronic medical record.

I half-expected Teich’s clinic to resemble the environmental isolation unit used by Randolph in the 1950s, with an airlocked entrance, blocked ventilation shafts and stainless-steel air-filtration devices, books and newspapers in sealed boxes, aluminium walls to prevent electromagnetic pollution, and water in glass bottles instead of a cooler. But there were none of the above. The clinic was like any other family medicine practice I had seen before; it was just very old. The physical examination rooms had brown linoleum floors and green metal chairs and tables. And there were no windows.

Although several of Teich’s patients were chemically sensitive, MCS was rarely the central focus of visits. When he introduced me, as a student writing about MCS, to his first patient of the day, a petrol-intolerant woman whose appointment was over the phone because she was housebound, she admitted to never having heard of the condition. “You have to remember,” Teich told me, “that MCS is a symptom. It’s just one aspect of my patients’ problems. My goal is to get a good history and find the underlying cause.” Later, when I asked him whether he had observed any patterns suggesting an organic cause of MCS, he responded: “Mould. Almost always.”

Many people with MCS I encountered online also cited mould as a probable cause. Sharon told me about her first episode in 1998, when she experienced chest pain after discovering black mould festering in her family’s trailer home. A cardiac examination had produced no remarkable results, and Sharon’s primary care physician declared that she was having a panic attack related to the stress of a recent miscarriage. Sharon recognised that this contributed to her sudden health decline, but also found that her symptoms resolved only once she began sleeping away from home.

She found recognition in medical books such as Toxic (2016) by Neil Nathan, a retired family physician who argued that bodily sensitivities were the product of a hyper-reactive nervous system and a vigilant immune system that fired up in reaction to toxicities, much as Randolph had said. The conditions that Nathan describes are not supported by academic medicine as causes of MCS: mould toxicity and chronic Lyme disease are subject to the same critique.

Sharon went to see William Rea, a former surgeon (and Teich’s best friend). Rea diagnosed her with MCS secondary to mould toxicity. “Mould is everywhere,” Teich told me. “Not just indoors. Mould grows on leaves. That’s why people without seasonal allergies can become chemically sensitive during autumn.” When trees shed their leaves, he told me, mould spores fly into the air. He suspected that American mould is not American at all, but an invasive species that rode wind currents over the Pacific from China. He mentioned in passing that his wife recently died from ovarian cancer. Her disease, he speculated, also had its roots in mould.

In fact, Teich commonly treats patients with nystatin, an antifungal medication used to treat candida yeast infections, which often infect the mouth, skin and vagina. “I have an 80% success rate,” he told me. I was dubious that such a cheap and commonplace drug was able to cure an illness as debilitating as MCS, but I could not sneer at his track record. Every patient I met while shadowing Teich was comfortably in recovery, with smiles and jokes, miles apart from the people I met in online support groups who seemed to be permanently in the throes of their illness.

However, Teich was not practising medicine as I was taught it. This was a man who believed that the recombinant MMR vaccine could trigger “acute autism” – traditionally an anti-science point of view. When one of his patients, a charismatic bookworm I’ll call Mark, arrived at an appointment with severe, purple swelling up to his knees and a clear case of stasis dermatitis (irritation of the skin caused by varicose veins), Teich reflexively blamed mould and wrote a prescription for nystatin instead of urging Mark to see a cardiologist.

When I asked how a fungal infection in Mark’s toes could cause such a bad rash on his legs, he responded: “We have candida everywhere, and its toxins are released into the blood and travel to every part of the body. The thing is, most people don’t notice until it’s too late.” Moulds and fungi are easy scapegoats for inexplicable illnesses because they are so ubiquitous in our indoor and outdoor environments. A great deal of concern over mould toxicity (or, to use the technical term, mycotoxicosis) stems from the concept of “sick-building syndrome”, in which visible black mould is thought to increase sensitivity and make people ill.

This was true of Mark, who could point to the demolition of an old building across the street from his apartment as a source of mould in the atmosphere. Yet in mainstream medicine, diseases caused by moulds are restricted to allergies, hypersensitivity pneumonitis (an immunologic reaction to an inhaled agent, usually organic, within the lungs) and infection.

Disseminated fungal infections occur almost exclusively in patients who are immunocompromised, hospitalised or have an invasive foreign body such as a catheter. Furthermore, if “clinical ecologists” such as Teich are correct that moulds such as candida can damage multiple organs, then it must be spreading through the bloodstream. But I have yet to encounter a patient with MCS who reported fever or other symptoms of sepsis (the traumatic, whole-body reaction to infection) as part of their experience.

Teich himself did not use blood cultures to verify his claims of “systemic candidiasis”, and instead looked to chronic fungal infection of the nails, common in the general population, as sufficient proof.

“I don’t need tests or blood work,” he told me. “I rarely ever order them. I can see with my eyes that he has mould, and that’s enough.” It was Teich’s common practice to ask his patients to remove their socks to reveal the inevitable ridges and splits on their big toenails, and that’s all he needed.

Through Teich, I met a couple who were both chemically sensitive but otherwise just regular people. The wife, an upper-middle-class white woman I will call Cindy, had a long history of allergies and irritable bowel syndrome. She became ill whenever she smelled fumes or fragrances, especially laundry detergent and citrus or floral scents. Teich put both her and her husband on nystatin, and their sensitivities lessened dramatically.

What struck me as different about her case, compared with other patients with MCS, was that Cindy was also on a course of antidepressants and cognitive behavioural therapy, the standard treatment for anxiety and depression. “It really helps to cope with all the stress that my illness causes. You learn to live despite everything,” she said.

In contemporary academic medicine, stress and anxiety cause MCS, but MCS can itself cause psychiatric symptoms. Teich later told me, unexpectedly, that he had no illusions about whether MCS is a partly psychiatric illness: “Stress affects the adrenals, and that makes MCS worse. The mind and the body are not separate. We have to treat the whole person.”

To understand this case, I also spoke to Donald Black, associate chief of staff for mental health at the Iowa City Veterans Administration Health Care. He co-authored a recent article on idiopathic environmental intolerance that took a uniform stance on MCS as a psychosomatic disorder. In 1988, when Black was a new faculty member at the University of Iowa, he interviewed a patient entering a drug trial for obsessive-compulsive disorder.

He asked the woman to list her medications, and watched as she started unloading strange supplements and a book about environmental illness from her bag. The woman had been seeing a psychiatrist in Iowa City – a colleague of Black’s – who had diagnosed her with systemic candidiasis. Black was flummoxed. If that diagnosis was true, then the woman would be very ill, not sitting calmly before him.

Besides, it was not up to a psychiatrist to treat a fungal infection. How did he make the diagnosis? Did he do a physical or run blood tests? No, the patient told him, the psychiatrist just said that her symptoms were compatible with candidiasis. These symptoms included chemical sensitivities. After advising the patient to discard her supplements and find a new psychiatrist, Black made some phone calls and discovered that, indeed, his colleague had fallen in with the clinical ecologists.

Black was intrigued by this amorphous condition that had garnered an endless number of names: environmentally induced illness, toxicant-induced loss of tolerance, chemical hypersensitivity disease, immune dysregulation syndrome, cerebral allergy, 20th-century disease, and mould toxicity. In 1990, he solicited the aid of a medical student to find 26 subjects who had been diagnosed by clinical ecologists with chemical sensitivities and to conduct an “emotional profile”.

Every participant in their study filled out a battery of questions that determined whether they satisfied any of the criteria for psychiatric disorders. Compared with the controls, the chemically sensitive subjects had 6.3 times higher lifetime prevalence of major depression, and 6.8 times higher lifetime prevalence of panic disorder or agoraphobia; 17% of the cases met the criteria for somatisation disorder (an extreme focus on physical symptoms – such as pain or fatigue – that causes major emotional distress and problems functioning).

In my own review of the literature, it was clear that the most compelling evidence for MCS came from case studies of large-scale “initiating events” such as the Gulf war (where soldiers were uniquely exposed to pesticides and pyridostigmine bromide pills to protect against nerve agents) or the terrorist attacks on the US of 11 September 2001 (when toxins from the falling towers caused cancers and respiratory ailments for years).

In both instances, a significant number of victims developed chemical intolerances compared with populations who were not exposed. From a national survey of veterans deployed in the Gulf war, researchers found that up to a third of respondents reported multi-symptom illnesses, including sensitivity to pesticides – twice the rate of veterans who had not deployed.

Given that Gulf war veterans experienced post-traumatic stress disorder at levels similar to those in other military conflicts, the findings have been used to breathe new life into Randolph’s idea of postindustrial toxicities leading to intolerance. The same has been said of the first responders and the World Trade Centre’s nearby residents, who developed pulmonary symptoms when exposed to “cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust, cleaning solutions, perfume, or other airborne irritants” after 9/11, according to a team at Mount Sinai.

Black, who doubts a real disease, has no current clinical experience with MCS patients. (Apart from the papers he wrote more than 20 years ago, he had seen only a handful of MCS patients over the course of his career.) Despite this, he had not only written the article about MCS, but also a guide in a major online medical manual on how to approach MCS treatment as a psychiatric disease. When I asked him if there was a way for physicians to regain the trust of patients who have been bruised by the medical system, he simply replied:

“No.” For him, there would always be a subset of patients who are searching for answers or treatments that traditional medicine could not satisfy. Those were the people who saw clinical ecologists, or who left society altogether. In a time of limited resources, these were not the patients on which Black thought psychiatry needed to focus. It became clear to me why even the de facto leading professional on MCS had hardly any experience actually treating MCS.

In his 1990 paper, Black – then a young doctor – rightly observed that “traditional medical practitioners are probably insensitive to patients with vague complaints, and need to develop new approaches to keep them within the medical fold.  The study subjects clearly believed that their clinical ecologists had something to offer them that others did not: sympathy, recognition of pain and suffering, a physical explanation for their suffering, and active participation in medical care.”I wondered if Black had given up on these “new approaches” because few CS patients wanted to see a psychiatrist in the first place.

Physicians on either side of the debate agreed that mental illness is a crucial part of treating MCS, with one I spoke to believing that stress causes MCS, and another believing that MCS causes stress. To reconcile the views, I interviewed another physician, Christine Oliver, a doctor of occupational medicine in Toronto, where she has served on the Ontario Task Force on Environmental Health. Oliver believes that both stances are probably valid and true. “No matter what side you’re on,” she told me, “there’s a growing consensus that this is a public health problem.”

Oliver represents a useful third position, one that takes the MCS illness experience seriously while sticking closely to medical science. As one of few “MCS-agnostic” physicians, she believes in a physiological cause for MCS that we cannot know and therefore cannot treat directly due to lack of research. Oliver agrees with Randolph’s original suggestion of avoiding exposures, although she understands that this approach has resulted in traumatising changes in patients’ abilities to function. For her, the priority for MCS patients is a practical one: finding appropriate housing.

Often unable to work and with a limited income, many of her patients occupy public housing or multi-family dwellings. The physician of an MCS patient must act like a social worker. Facilities such as hospitals, she feels, should be made more accessible by reducing scented cleaning products and soaps. Ultimately, finding a non-threatening space with digital access to healthcare providers and social support is the best way to allow the illness to run its course.

Whether organic or psychosomatic or something in between, MCS is a chronic illness. “One of the hardest things about being chronically ill,” wrote the American author Meghan O’Rourke in the New Yorker in 2013 about her battle against Lyme disease, “is that most people find what you’re going through incomprehensible – if they believe you are going through it. In your loneliness, your preoccupation with an enduring new reality, you want to be understood in a way that you can’t be.”

A language for chronic illness does not exist beyond symptomatology, because in the end symptoms are what debilitate “normal” human functioning. In chronic pain, analgesics can at least deaden a patient’s suffering. The same cannot be said for MCS symptoms, which are disorienting in their chaotic variety, inescapability and inexpressibility. There are few established avenues for patients to completely avoid triggering their MCS, and so they learn to orient their lives around mitigating symptoms instead, whether that is a change in diet or moving house, as Sharon did. MCS comes to define their existence.

As a housebound person, Sharon’s ability to build a different life was limited. Outside, the world was moving forward, yet Sharon never felt left behind. What allowed her to live with chronic illness was not medicine or therapy, but the internet. On a typical day, Sharon wakes up and prays in bed. She wolfs down handfuls of pills and listens to upbeat music on YouTube while preparing her meals for the day: blended meats and vegetables, for easier swallowing.

The rest of the day is spent on her laptop computer, checking email and Facebook, watching YouTube videos until her husband returns home in the evening. Then bed. This is how Sharon has lived for the past six years, and she does not expect anything different from the future. When I asked her if being homebound was lonely, I was taken aback at her reply: “No.”

In spite of not having met most of her 15 grandchildren (with two more on the way), Sharon keeps in daily contact with all of them. In fact, Sharon communicates with others on a nearly constant basis. “Some people are very much extroverts,” Sharon wrote. “I certainly am. But there are also people who need physical touch … and I can understand why they might need to see ‘real people’ then … but it’s very possible to be content with online friends. This is my life!”

The friendships that Sharon formed online with other housebound people with chronic illnesses were the longest-lasting and the most alive relationships she had ever known. She had never met her best friend of 20 years – their relationship existed completely through letters and emails, until two years ago, when the friend died. That “was very hard for me”, Sharon wrote.

The pandemic changed very little of Sharon’s life. If anything, Covid-19 improved her situation. Sharon’s local church live-streamed Sunday service, telehealth doctor appointments became the default, YouTube exploded in content, and staying indoors was normalised. Sharon saw her network steadily expand as more older adults became isolated in quarantine.

People within the online MCS community call themselves “canaries”, after the birds historically used as sentinels in coalmines to detect toxic levels of carbon monoxide. With a higher metabolism and respiratory rate, the small birds would theoretically perish before the less-sensitive human miners, providing a signal to escape. The question for people with MCS is: will anyone listen?

“Us canaries,” said a woman named Vera, who was bedbound from MCS for 15 years after a botched orthopaedic surgery, “we struggle and suffer in silence.” Now, in the information age, they have colonised the internet to find people like themselves. For our part, we must reimagine chronic illness – which will become drastically more common in the aftermath of the pandemic – where what matters to the patient is not only a scientific explanation and a cure, but also a way to continue living a meaningful life.

This calls into action the distinction between illness and disease that the psychiatrist and anthropologist Arthur Kleinman made in his 1988 book The Illness Narratives. Whereas a disease is an organic process within the body, illness is the lived experience of bodily processes. “Illness problems,” he writes, “are the principal difficulties that symptoms and disability create in our lives.”

By centring conversations about MCS on whether or not it is real, we alienate the people whose illnesses have deteriorated their ability to function at home and in the world. After all, the fundamental mistrust does not lie in the patient-physician relationship, but between patients and their bodies. Chronic illness is a corporeal betrayal, an all-out assault on the coherent self. Academic medicine cannot yet shed light on the physiological mechanisms that would explain MCS. But practitioners and the rest of society must still meet patients with empathy and acceptance, making space for their narratives, their lives, and their experience in the medical and wider world.

After two years of wrangling, false starts and disappointments, it finally happened: America has passed its first-ever climate legislation, moving the country closer to its goal of a decarbonized future and taking a significant step toward helping the planet avert the worst scenarios of climate catastrophe.

But it’s not a time to rest. We have always held power to account – on climate and  every other major issue – from the fossil fuel companies responsible for heating the planet to the politicians representing their interests. The country responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions in history has indicated it will change course; we will relentlessly report on what comes next, who will benefit and the remaining obstacles to progress.

With daily reporting and analysis on the climate emergency, we aim to ensure that even more people are made aware of the dangers – and opportunities – of this moment.

By

Source: Allergic to the world: can medicine help people with severe intolerance to chemicals? | Health & wellbeing | The Guardian

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8 Science-Backed Ways to Boost Your Immune System, According to Experts

Your immune system is your main line of defense against illness, so it only makes sense that you’d want to keep it in top shape. That’s especially true during cold and flu season—and with continued outbreaks of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) sweeping the country.

You’re born with your immune system and everyone’s is slightly different, but there are certain things you can do to try to bolster it, says Julia Blank, M.D., family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. “Maintaining a healthy immune system requires that you take good care of your body,” she says.

How does the immune system work, exactly?

Your immune system is actually made up of “multiple layers of defense,” Dr. Blank says. This includes physical barriers like your skin, cilia (tiny, hair-like structures) that line your airways, and specialized cells that recognize and attack foreign substances like viruses and bacteria, she explains.

“Some of these immune cells are nonspecific and destroy anything that appears foreign. Other cells produce antibodies that recognize and target protein markers (called antigens) on the surface of germs,” Dr. Blank says.

Your immune system also has the ability to recognize pathogens you’ve come into contact with before and mount a quick response. “This is why we don’t usually get sick after being exposed to a germ we’ve already encountered and fought off in the past,” Dr. Blank says.

How to Boost Your Immune System

There are a few science-backed approaches you can take to boost your immune system, most of which are recommended for overall wellness:

1. Keep your alcohol intake in check.

High alcohol intake has been shown to suppress immune function,” says Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., author of The Little Book of Game-Changers. Plus, booze “can be dehydrating, and hydration is really important for protecting yourself from illness.” When you’re dehydrated, your cells aren’t able to function at their optimal level—and that can open up the door for you to get sick, Cording explains.

If you don’t want to cut out booze completely, sip in moderation. That means having up to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men, according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

2. Reduce your stress levels.

Stress seems harmless enough once you get over whatever it is you’re anxious about, but studies show it can “compromise or suppress the immune system and make us more vulnerable to infection,” Dr. Blank says.

Specifically, research has found that stress causes a release of the hormone cortisol, which can boost inflammation, a precursor to many diseases, in your body. Chronic stress may also interfere with the infection-fighting ability of your white blood cells, making you more susceptible to contracting illnesses. (Can’t unwind? Check out these science-backed ways to relieve stress.)

3. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Putting a rainbow of fruits and vegetables on your plate can do your immune system a solid, says Beth Warren, R.D., founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Secrets of a Kosher Girl. “Fruits and veggies help arm your body with antioxidants it needs to fight oxidative stress, which includes contracting a sickness, in your body,” she says.

Not sure how much you need? The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that people who eat 2,000 calories a day have 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables a day. Some solid options: leafy greens, bell peppers,citrus fruits, sweet potatoes, and berries.

4. Load up on vitamin D.

Vitamin D plays an important role in supporting the immune system by helping your body produce antibodies, which can then fight illness, Cording says.

“Active vitamin D gets sent to different areas of your body, including your bones, intestines, colon, brain, and immune cells, where it binds with the receptors on these cells and ultimately turns them on,” adds Warren.

The kicker: Most people don’t get enough of it. Your body primarily produces vitamin D from the sun’s UV rays (it’s called the sunshine vitamin for a reason!), but you can also load up on vitamin-D rich foods to boost your intake, including fatty fish and seafood, mushrooms, eggs (don’t skip the yolk), and fortified foods, Cording says. If you suspect your vitamin D intake is low and would like to take a supplement, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she can do a blood test to determine the appropriate dosage for you.

5. Prioritize sleep.

Spending more time snoozing is key, Dr. Blank confirms. “Getting enough sleep helps our bodies recover from everyday stress—both physical and mental—and promotes better functioning of our immune system,” she says.

When you don’t get enough shut-eye, your body may decrease the production of protective proteins called cytokines, which your immune response needs more of when it’s dealing with an infection or inflammation while under stress.

So just how much sleep are we talking about? The National Sleep Foundation says adults up to age 64 should snooze between seven and nine hours per night for, while adults 65 and up should aim between seven and eight hours. (Tossing and turning? Check out our full guide on how to sleep better every night.)

6. Wash your hands often.

Washing your hands regularly will help keep viruses and bacteria away from your eyes, nose, and mouth, which can do your immune system a solid, Dr. Blank says. “This reduces the variety and number of germs we are exposed to and keeps our immune system from getting overwhelmed,” she explains.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifically recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or the amount of time it takes to hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.

7. Keep up with a regular exercise routine.

Being physically active can help keep pathogens out of your lungs and airways, according to the National Library of Medicine, which can minimize your odds of getting a cold, the flu, or other illnesses. Exercise can also give antibodies and white blood cells a boost, causing them to circulate more widely throughout your body, where they might detect illnesses better than they would if you didn’t get moving.

8. Finally, quit smoking if you haven’t already.

You already know smoking is bad for your health in so many ways, but it can also wreak havoc and “cause direct damage” to parts of your immune system, Dr. Blank says.

For example, smoking immobilizes cilia, the hair-like structures in your airways that help “sweep” out bacteria. “These cilia form the first line of defense against respiratory infections,” Dr. Blank says. When they’re immobilized, germs have “much easier access” to your lungs, she explains. Cue the coughing and sneezing.

Adopting certain lifestyle habits can strengthen your immune system. Of course, you can do everything right and still get sick. But doing your best to boost your immune system now means your body will be that much more prepared for tackling whatever bugs may come your way later.

By: Korin Miller

Source: 8 Science-Backed Ways to Boost Your Immune System, According to Experts

Critics by: Carol DerSarkissian

You may have noticed you’re more likely to catch a cold or other infection when you’re not getting enough sleep. Studies help bear out that well-rested people who received the flu vaccine developed stronger protection against the illness. Not getting enough sleep can lead to higher levels of a stress hormone. It may also lead to more inflammation in your body.

Although researchers aren’t exactly sure how sleep boosts the immune system, it’s clear that getting enough – usually 7 to 9 hours for an adult – is key for good health. Try to get regular, moderate exercise, like a daily 30-minute walk. It can help your immune system fight infection. If you don’t exercise regularly, you’re more likely to get colds, for example, than someone who does. Exercise can also boost your body’s feel-good chemicals and help you sleep better. Both of those are good for your immune system.

Eating or drinking too much sugar curbs immune system cells that attack bacteria. This effect lasts for at least a few hours after downing a couple of sugary drinks. Eat more fruits and vegetables, which are rich in nutrients like vitamins C and E, plus beta-carotene and zinc. Go for a wide variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, including berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, apples, red grapes, kale, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots.

Other foods particularly good for your immune system include fresh garlic, which may help fight viruses and bacteria, and old-fashioned chicken soup. If you do come down with a cold or the flu, a bowl of chicken soup can help you get well faster, one study shows. Some mushroom varieties — such as shiitake — may also help your immune system.

Everyone has some stress; it’s part of life. If stress drags on for a long time, it makes you more vulnerable to illness, from colds to serious diseases. Chronic stress exposes your body to a steady stream of stress hormones that suppress the immune system. You may not be able to get rid of your stress, but you can get better at managing it.

  • Learn to meditate.
  • Slow down.
  • Connect with other people.
  • Work out to blow off steam.

Counseling is a big help, too. Easing stress lowers levels of a stress hormone. It also helps you sleep better, which improves immune function. People who meditate regularly may have healthier immune system responses, some studies show. In one experiment, people who meditated over an 8-week period made more antibodies to a flu vaccine than people who didn’t meditate. And they still showed an increased immune system response 4 months later.

Having strong relationships and a good social network is good for you. People who feel connected to friends – whether it’s a few close friends or a large group – have stronger immunity than those who feel alone, studies show. In one study, lonely freshmen had a weaker immune response to a flu vaccine than those who felt connected to others. Although there are many other things that affect your health, making meaningful connections with people is always a good idea.

Laughing is good for you. It curbs the levels of stress hormones in your body and boosts a type of white blood cell that fights infection. Just anticipating a funny event can have a positive effect on your immune system. In one study, men were told 3 days in advance that they were going to watch a funny video. Their levels of stress hormones dropped.

.

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BA.5 Is Driving A Wave Of Covid Infections, But Not Deaths Here’s Why Experts Say We Should Still Be Cautious

The evasive BA.5 omicron variant is driving up Covid cases and hospitalizations as it spreads rapidly across the United States—but despite deaths remaining lower compared to earlier waves, experts tell Forbes there are still plenty of reasons to remain cautious and warn Americans against letting their guard down too soon.

While Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise in most states in recent weeks and jumped 20% nationwide over the past fortnight, deaths have risen only modestly and have hovered around 300-400 a day since April. Driving the new wave is BA.5, an omicron offshoot that has a “superpower to cause reinfection” and can evade immunity from vaccination and previous infection, even from other omicron variants, Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, told Forbes.

The disconnect reflects the fact that vaccines and past infections still provide strong protection against serious illness and death for BA.5 as well as there being more options available to treat early disease like Pfizer’s Paxlovid. Chin-Hong said there are still plenty of reasons to avoid infection, not least because Covid can still cause severe symptoms “even if you don’t end up in the hospital” and symptoms can “last for weeks.”

Infection also carries the risk of “long Covid”—lingering and sometimes debilitating symptoms that can persist for months or years—and early evidence suggests this is more likely the more times you get infected. Avoiding infection also helps safeguard people around you who may have less protection against serious disease like children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, Dr. Stuart Turville, a virologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, told Forbes.

Increasingly transmissible variants of omicron have surged across the U.S. this year. BA.5, the most infectious form of the virus yet, rapidly spread and became the dominant variant in early July. It now accounts for an estimated 78% of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and community transmission has spiked. Concerns over BA.5, as well as the related BA.4, prompted officials to direct vaccine makers to target the variants in updated shots and the Biden Administration announced new plans to tackle its spread.

Officials and experts say it is especially important to ensure strong protection against serious disease by keeping up-to-date on vaccinations, including booster shots. Despite the appeals of public health officials and being available for many months, booster uptake in the U.S. is poor. Fewer than half of fully vaccinated people have received their first booster dose and fewer than 30% of those who have and are eligible for a second have taken up the offer, according to CDC data.

More variants. It is inevitable that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, will evolve and spawn new variants over time. Another omicron offshoot, BA.2.75—inexplicably and successfully dubbed “Centaurus” by the internet—has already caught the eye of virologists. The variant is spreading rapidly in India, has been detected across Europe and North America and shows signs of evading immunity.

Little data is available and it’s not clear whether BA.2.75 causes more severe disease. It’s also not clear whether it would be able to take over from BA.5 “as the ruler of the roost,” Chin-Hong explained, as they haven’t had a chance to directly compete with each other as yet.”

A great deal. Data collection and surveillance is poor compared to earlier on in the pandemic. Individual testing is down, genomic surveillance is reduced and evidence suggests cases could be vastly higher than official figures state. Conversely, hospital figures are inflated and reflect routine testing upon admission, which catches many “incidental” infections from people seeking care for other problems.

There is a lot to be understood about the newer omicron variants as well, experts say. BA.5, as well as other more recent omicron offshoots like BA.4 and BA.2.75, are relatively new pathogens that are infecting or reinfecting large numbers of people in the community, Turville explained, which makes it hard to provide absolute and definitive answers. “As with most things with SARS CoV-2, it is a large bag of unknowns,” he added.

Turville told Forbes the decoupling of deaths from cases shows the longer term effects of vaccination and exposure to the virus. It’s a “maturing immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in general” which has taken off the “edge of disease severity,” he added.

While cases are growing—and likely undercounted—it’s worth noting that they are a long way from the earlier omicron peak in January. In July, there were around 100,000-120,000 cases reported on average compared to more than 800,000 in mid January.

I am a senior reporter for the Forbes breaking news team, covering health and science from the London office. Previously I worked as a reporter for a trade publication

Source: BA.5 Is Driving A Wave Of Covid Infections, But Not Deaths—Here’s Why Experts Say We Should Still Be Cautious

Critics by

So far there is no evidence that this variant causes more serious illness. And infectious disease experts say that even though new infections are on the rise, the impact of BA.5 is unlikely to be on the scale of the surge we saw last winter — in part because the country is better equipped to manage it.

The U.S. is averaging about 300 deaths a day, compared to 3,000 last winter. Dr. Anna Durbin, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says the combination of prior infections and vaccinations is still protective, and COVID-19 treatments are better.

“Most people have some underlying immunity that is helpful in fighting the virus,” she explains. “We have antivirals … And I think that because of that … we’re not seeing a rise in deaths. And that’s very reassuring. It tells me that even this virus, even BA.5, is not so divergent that it is escaping all arms of the immune system.”

She adds that new booster shots specifically targeting omicron — which could roll out as soon as this fall — should also be helpful in preventing serious illness and deaths.

There are steps you can take to reduce your exposure to the virus, like masking up in crowded indoor spaces. Here’s how to step up your mask game.

Plus, children under the age of 5 are finally eligible to get vaccinated (and while many parents are hesitant, public health experts are encouraging them not to wait any longer). And adults ages 50 and older, as well as those over 12 with certain underlying conditions, can get a second booster shot.

And, if you already have plans to travel or attend gatherings this summer, check out these tips for protecting yourself outdoors, improving indoor airflow and what to do if you get sick while on vacation.

Related contents:

BA.5 variant now makes up 78% of active Covid-19 cases in the US Mail Online

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Planning on Going Back To The Office, Hitting The Gym or Attending a Wedding? A Guide To Staying COVID Safe

Dr. Anthony Fauci declared last month that the U.S. is transitioning “out of the pandemic phase,” following mask mandates lifting across the country. However, that doesn’t mean COVID-19 is behind us. Surges continue in different parts of the U.S., while an estimated 300 people die every day because of the virus.

So it’s understandable that some people — at least the ones who have been trying to protect themselves and others from the highly-contagious virus for the past two years — are feeling a bit confused about what exactly they should be doing at this stage of the pandemic to stay healthy and safe.

Dr. Joseph Khabbaza, a critical care medicine specialist and pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic, tells Yahoo Life, “A lot of people have been given a sense that this is probably over for most of us. The answer isn’t going to be the same for every two people.”

Khabbaza says that’s because every person has to assess their own individual risk factors when it comes to getting COVID. Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, an assistant professor of medicine in infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, agrees, telling Yahoo Life: “Safety precautions at this stage in the pandemic are related to one’s personal risk of having a bad outcome from COVID-19, vaccination status and one’s personal risk tolerance. All situations are slightly unique and require an individual and situational risk assessment.”

With the exception of people who are immunocompromised or elderly, though, “if you’re fully vaccinated and up-to-date on boosters, your personal odds of getting severe illness are very low, even if you come across the virus,” says Khabbaza. “Whereas for people who have not been vaccinated they may not factor in that they are at high risk for severe illness. But that’s something some people have chosen.”

How can you protect yourself in general?

In a nutshell, getting vaccinated and boosted if eligible is still the right call — especially if you’re more vulnerable to severe illness from COVID — and offers “the best protection,” says Kulkarni.

He adds: “Folks who are at higher risk for a worse outcome from COVID-19 may wish to enhance their protection from contracting COVID-19. The best way to do this is with a well-fitting mask. N95 respirator-type masks afford the greatest individual protection.”

Kulkarni says that “the folks who are potentially at the highest risk at this point in the pandemic include unvaccinated individuals, especially older persons, folks who are at higher risk but have not yet been boosted such as older persons or people living in nursing homes and people with significant immunocompromising conditions.”

Both Kulkarni and Khabbaza say it’s also important to know what the COVID rates are in your area or where you’re traveling to. “Following CDC’s tracker of COVID activity around the country can also be helpful to get a gauge for how things are going in a particular geographic area,” says Kulkarni.

Planning on going back to the office, hitting the gym or attending a wedding? Keep these precautions in mind to stay COVID safe and healthy.

Flying on a plane

With multiple U.S. domestic airlines including Delta, American and United dropping mask requirements on flights, you may be wondering how to stay safe while traveling on packed planes. The CDC states that it continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time. But depending on your own personal risk factors and risk tolerance, while at the airport, “if you’re able to space apart from people and avoid close sustained contact, then a mask is not going to be needed,” says Khabbaza. But when you’re in prolonged close proximity to others, it’s a good idea to mask up.

For example, Khabbaza shares that he doesn’t wear a mask while walking around the airport because he’s in motion and able to distance himself from others. However, he puts on a mask while in the security line “because of close contact.” He then takes it off walking to the gate and while sitting at the gate “because I’m away from other people.” Once on the plane, Khabbaza puts his mask back on. “Ventilation in airplanes seems to be good, but to me, it’s easy enough to minimize my risk in a setting with others by wearing a mask,” he says. “That’s where you’ll get more value for masking.”

Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, told CNN that wearing a mask in the highest-risk settings while traveling is key. “That includes during boarding and deplaning when the ventilation systems on airplanes are often not running,” she says. “Don’t drink or eat at those times.”

Although airlines often hand out sanitizing wipes as you board, Khabbaza explains that, from a COVID transmission standpoint, “I don’t think that would have much of a barrier.” That’s because “contact with surfaces is not as big of a mode of transmission as initially thought, if at all,” he says. That said, it doesn’t hurt to wipe down the seat and tray table for hygiene’s sake.

Kulkarni agrees, saying, “In general, wiping down surfaces via routine cleaning can be generally helpful for avoidance of transmission of several different infectious organisms.”

Eating at a restaurant

In general, it’s safer to dine outdoors when feasible. “Similar to the initial stages of the pandemic, outdoor transmission of COVID is very limited compared to indoor transmission,” points out Kulkarni.

Khabbaza says to keep in mind that “if you are choosing to dine in a restaurant, most of your risk is when you’re sitting down and eating, which is much of the time.” Putting on a mask while walking for “a few seconds to your seat” or wearing one on the way to the restroom may not change the fact that there’s a “slightly higher risk of indoor dining right now,” he says. “Theoretically, it could lower it a little bit, but you’re drinking, eating, talking and laughing when seated and not moving around — that’s where the risks are.”

Khabbaza says the safest way to dine indoors is by choosing restaurants with big open windows to further lower the risk of transmission or going to restaurants during off-hours “when they’re not full.”

Working in an office

If you’re alone in your own office or in a private cubicle, a mask likely isn’t needed. “It will be hard to transmit if far away from others and there’s a barrier with cubicles,” Khabbaza says.

But he stresses that it’s important to know your company’s policy on vaccinations and whether employees need to show proof of vaccination to better assess the risk. “If vaccination is mandatory that certainly makes things a lot safer,” Khabbaza says. “But if you’re in close sustained contact all day at work, masking is probably not a bad idea, especially in times of high cases.”

Wearing a mask can also help put co-workers and employers who are more vulnerable at ease. “If you’re working with people you know are immunocompromised or elderly, it’s OK to try to protect them with masking,” he says.

Along with distancing and good ventilation, Wen told CNN that “testing that’s done at least once a week can help catch early, asymptomatic COVID-19 cases and serve as an additional layer of protection.”

Visiting a public pool

The good news is that the virus doesn’t transmit through water, per the World Health Organization. There’s also the protective benefit of being outdoors while at a public pool. However, Khabbaza points out that “close sustained contact with someone in a pool might have some of that risk.”

If the pool isn’t crowded, it’s easy to avoid people and space apart. “But if it’s a crowded pool party, there’s a risk and masks aren’t feasible,” he says.

When going indoors, such as to the locker room, it’s a good idea to put on a mask if there are several people close by. The CDC recommends bringing extra masks and storing them in a plastic bag in case one gets wet.

Going to the supermarket

In general, supermarkets are “lower risk from a COVID standpoint because you’re not really in close sustained contact — a lot of it is walking by people,” says Khabbaza, “and you can space out in a line at the cashier.”

But if you’re concerned or immunocompromised, he says, “just wear the mask, and then you have a barrier over your nose and mouth.”

Working out at the gym

The size, crowd and ventilation matter when it comes to gyms. Small boutique gyms that rely on fans to circulate the air are going to be “a little [riskier] if crowded because there’s not much ventilation,” says Khabbaza. “In the really big gyms, spacing can be done” so you can distance yourself from others. Large gyms are also more likely to have an HVAC system for better air filtration.

“If you can space out, it’s going to be relatively safer compared to smaller gyms where spacing isn’t much of an option,” says Khabbaza.

While wiping down gym equipment isn’t essential from a COVID transmission standpoint — “it would be very hard to get it, especially if you’re not touching your face,” Khabbaza says — it’s a standard recommendation to do so before and after using gym equipment in general.

Attending an indoor party or wedding

If you’re at a high risk of severe illness, “it might be reasonable to avoid weddings at times of [COVID] surges,” says Khabbaza, who recommends wearing a well-fitting N95 mask at group events, particularly if you’re more vulnerable. “If you’re anxious about the possibility of getting it, weddings may not be best for you during times of surges.”

That said, most weddings take place at “big venues where you can space out a bit,” he says. “If you’re spaced out and in a mask, you should be very good about minimizing your risk.” But Khabbaza says that the best protection is being up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, which makes the odds of severe illness “extremely low, assuming you have a normal immune system,” he says.

You can also go one step further to assess the risk of attending a larger social gathering: Dr. Preeti Malani, chief health officer at the Division of Infectious Diseases and Geriatric Medicine at the University of Michigan, told NPR that before a big event, “ask if people must be vaccinated and/or tested to attend and if they have to show proof or are on the honor system.”

Staying at a hotel

While you don’t need to wear a mask when you’re in your own hotel room, you might want to put one on while riding the elevator if it’s crowded or if you’re staying at a big hotel with longer elevator rides that stop at multiple floors. “A short elevator ride will be on the lower end [of the risk spectrum], but not impossible,” says Khabbaza. “But transmissibility becomes higher when in close contact.”

A 2021 study found that in elevators without proper ventilation, an infected person coughing can transmit viral particles “all across the elevator enclosure.”

Another option to stay safe: If you don’t want to mask, wait for the next empty — or mostly empty — elevator if it’s feasible, or take the stairs, suggests Khabbaza.

By:

Source: Planning on going back to the office, hitting the gym or attending a wedding? A guide to staying COVID safe now.

Further reading:

Monkeypox: Doctors warn of ‘massive impact’ on sexual health services as staff self-isolate (Yahoo) | https://uk.news.yahoo.com/monkeypox-d…

Monkeypox outbreak linked to superspreader event at adult sauna (Yahoo) | https://news.yahoo.com/monkeypox-outb…

MISCExplainer: What to Know About Monkeypox (Visual Capitalist) | https://www.visualcapitalist.com/expl…

Human monkeypox: an emerging zoonosis (Lancet) | https://www.thelancet.com/journals/la…

First monkeypox genome from latest outbreak shows links to 2018 strain (NewScientist) | https://www.newscientist.com/article/…

Monkeypox virus evades antiviral CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses by suppressing cognate T cell activation (PNAS) | https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas…

FDA approves first live, non-replicating vaccine to prevent smallpox and monkeypox (FDA) | https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press… Nov 3, 2021

ACIP Meeting – Orthopoxviruses Vaccines (CDC) | https://youtu.be/4SCUOppgtxE Israel reports first case of monkeypox, suspects others (ABC) | https://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireSto…

New York officials investigate case of suspected monkeypox (Miami Herald) | https://www.miamiherald.com/latest-ne…

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While the World Health Organization says long COVID starts three months after the original bout of illness or positive test result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sets the timeline at just after one month.

Among the many confounding aspects of the coronavirus is the spectrum of possible symptoms, as well as their severity and duration. Some people develop mild illness and recover quickly, with no lasting effects. But studies estimate that 10% to 30% of people report persistent or new medical issues months after their initial coronavirus infections — a constellation of symptoms known as long COVID.

People who experience mild or moderate illness, as well as those without any underlying medical conditions, can nonetheless experience some debilitating long-term symptoms, including fatigue, shortness of breath, an erratic heart rate, headaches, dizziness, depression and problems with memory and concentration.

Such lingering medical issues are so varied that one study by a patient-led research group evaluated 203 symptoms that may fluctuate or even appear out of the blue after people seem to have recovered.

As Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, the chief of research and development at the VA St. Louis Healthcare System and a clinical public health researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, said, “If you’ve seen one patient with long COVID, you’ve seen one patient with long COVID.”

How doctors currently diagnose long COVID

There is little consensus on the exact definition of long COVID, also known by the medical term PASC, or post-acute sequelae of COVID-19. While the World Health Organization says long COVID starts three months after the original bout of illness or positive test result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sets the timeline at just after one month.

Some researchers and health care providers use other time frames, making efforts to study and quantify the condition more difficult, said Al-Aly, who has conducted many studies on long-term post-COVID issues.

When patients experiencing persistent symptoms go to their doctors, tests like electrocardiograms, chest X-rays, CT scans and blood work don’t always identify physiological problems, Al-Aly said. Researchers are working to pinpoint certain biological factors, called biomarkers, that correlate with persistent COVID symptoms. These could include signs of inflammation or certain molecules produced by the immune system that might be measured by blood tests, for example.

Long COVID is defined as symptoms that cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis and last at least two months following an initial COVID-19 infection. It is usually after three months (12 weeks) of persistent symptoms when a patient is suspected of having long COVID.

Long COVID can affect anyone of any age, including children and adolescents. Even if you had mild or no symptoms when you were first infected, you can be impacted by long COVID.

For some, long COVID symptoms can be more severe than the acute COVID-19 infection itself. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), symptoms can persist from the initial illness or begin after recovery, and they may come and go or improve over time.

Long COVID can interfere with a person’s ability to perform normal, everyday activities, like work and household chores. With children, it can affect their ability to do their schoolwork. While it cannot be predicted how long a given patient may experience long COVID, some research has shown that patients can get better over time.

Long COVID Symptoms

Long COVID symptoms are different from acute COVID symptoms. Conditions can include, but are not limited to:

  • Persistent cough
  • Loss of (or changes in) taste and smell
  • Depression
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Sleeping problems
  • Lightheadedness
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Chest pain
  • Palpitations
  • Headache
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Poor appetite

How Does Long COVID Affect Children?

Some common symptoms seen in children include fatigue, headache, trouble sleeping and concentrating, muscle and joint pain, and cough. As with other medical conditions, young children may have trouble describing the problems they are experiencing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), information on long COVID in children and adolescents is limited, so it is possible other symptoms may be likely in younger age groups.

If your child is suffering from long COVID and is unable to complete their normal school assignments, it might be best to ask school administrators about accommodations such as extra time to complete tests and assignments, rest periods throughout the school day and modified class schedules, says the CDC.

What Causes Long COVID?

It is unknown why people experience long COVID. The cause is still an active area of research. Some experts believe the cause is potentially due to the body’s hyper-inflammatory immune response to a new germ.

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Source: What We Know About Long COVID So Far

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