While the coronavirus pandemic is upending normal life for everyone, it poses a particular threat for those with an invisible illnesses—in other words, a chronic illness or condition that isn't always obvious to other people but makes navigating day-to-day life a challenge.
Many who live with an invisible illness rely on the availability of doctors, pharmacies, and social activities to make their lives as normal as possible. With stores closing and people practicing social distancing, the physical and emotional health of invisible illness sufferers could be in jeopardy.
Harper Spero, founder of Made Visible podcast, knows what this feels like. Spero has hyper-IgE syndrome, a genetic condition that makes her immune system extremely sensitive and puts her at a higher risk of developing serious complications if she contracts the coronavirus. As part of our ongoing Invisible Illness series, Health spoke to Spero about what people like her are dealing with right now, and what resources are out there offering help.
RELATED: 10 Ways to Do Therapy Virtually if You're Having Coronavirus Anxiety
"I feature a lot of people with invisible illnesses on my podcast, and what I've been hearing from a lot of them is that they're used to this," says Spero. "People are finally starting to understand what it's like to be isolated and to worry about their health all the time, which is something that people with invisible illnesses have been living with for years."
Spero explains that even before the COVID-19 outbreak, she often had to ask her guests to call in remotely if they say they're sick with a contagious illness—otherwise her own health is at stake. "Right now, we're at a much higher risk than usual, but the people that need to be the most careful are also the ones who need the most help," she says.
A lot of people with invisible illnesses rely on weekly doctors appointments and frequent trips to the pharmacy, she explains. With hospitals postponing some patient visits to make room for coronavirus sufferers and stores shutting down until the call for social distancing lifts, they might not be able to get the help they need to manage their illness.
RELATED: Here’s What You Can Do to Protect High-Risk Family Members During the COVID-19 Outbreak
While the pandemic continues and restrictions stay in place, Spero recommends that people with invisible illnesses seek out resources to help stay mentally and physically healthy. Here are five she recommends:
Beyond My Battle provides a "COVID-19 Battle Kit" full of free and donation-based resources including guided meditations, art activity ideas, and at-home yoga and exercise classes. People can also access relevant podcasts and articles to help educate others with chronic illnesses on how to stay safe.
The Wana app gives people with invisible illnesses a community right at their fingertips. This app lets you chat with others with chronic illnesses, join groups focused on a specific illness, and offers a library of health information for some of the most common chronic illnesses. In an age of social distancing and isolation, this app is a great way to foster connection from afar.
RELATED: Elective Surgery Is Being Postponed Because of Coronavirus—Here's Why, According to Experts
The last thing people with chronic illnesses need to worry about is their employment status. Chronically Capable is a job-hunting site that exclusively features flexible jobs for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses. The companies on the site allow employees to work remotely to accommodate their needs.
Virus Anxiety from Shine offers a collection of resources for people who are experiencing coronavirus-induced anxiety. Articles address managing social isolation and financial fears.
Spero's podcast, Made Visible, addresses coronavirus worries and explores coping mechanisms for people with invisible illnesses. Episodes feature input from doctors, experts, and invisible illnesses sufferers, who share information about staying safe and healthy at a time when no one knows when the pandemic will end.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter.