The Mighty Logo

23 Little Things People Do That They Don't Realize Makes Your Chronic Illness Worse

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Going out into the world with chronic illness can sometimes be a scary thing. You don’t know what you might encounter that will set off a flare, and unfortunately, people may do things that they don’t even realize are harmful to you. Little things they do without a second thought, like spritzing on perfume, turning up the TV or giving you a hug can add more pain and discomfort to your day (even if they had the best intentions!).

Few people besides others with chronic illness truly understand how these “little things” can lead to major consequences, and it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one experiencing these challenges. So we asked our Mighty community to share the things other people do that they don’t realize make your symptoms worse. And, if you’re reading this because you have chronically ill people in your life, perhaps the following list will help you understand what you can do to make their lives a bit easier.

Here’s what our community told us:

  1. Having the TV on, talking loudly, or listening to music/watching videos on their phones. I’m prone to sensory overload (everything gets louder, brighter, and smells get stronger) and when it happens, even just some quiet TV on in a waiting room, for example, is too much for me to handle and the noise makes all my other symptoms worse.” — Kathryn R.
  2. “‘Well I didn’t want to wait for the closer parking spot because it’s rude to everyone else. It’s only a few yards further from the door.’ Yeah those extra yards mean I wouldn’t have the energy to make dinner.” — Alexis T.
  3. “Hugs. It always makes me so sad that it hurts when friends or family hug me and it hurts my chest so much.” — Lindsay M.
  4. “The eager greeters at church who all but crush my poor hand during the handshake. After a few times I tell them, ‘Please don’t squeeze…’ Sad and a bit silly that something as simple as a handshake could cause such pain.” — Donna-Jean I.
  5. “Being slightly sick around me. Most people don’t know that when a scratchy throat starts or they start feeling slightly under the weather they are at the most contagious stage. Their bodies fight off the bacteria or virus quickly, whereas I, being immunosuppressed, get really sick from that slight exposure to the virus or bacteria. Really wish people would warn me against this when they are around me.” — Berdine B.
  6. “Talking loudly. I’ve had to unintentionally hurt the feelings of my closest friends by telling them they’re too loud when I’m dealing with migraines. People take it too personally.” — Autumn D.
  7. It seems so small and so considerate to other people when they just start pushing my wheelchair, getting in my way when I’m opening a door because they want to do it for me, or doing things around a store, house, or restaurant that I am perfectly capable of doing for myself. No one just walks up to strangers who are walking a different speed and pushes them along faster, pushes people out of the way to open a door for them, or starts cutting up some stranger’s food in a restaurant so I’m bewildered why they would do it to me.” — Gwendolyn C.
  8. “Uninvited drop-ins. ‘You said you weren’t feeling well, so I wanted to stop by.’ No, no, no… please don’t.” — Autumn D.
  9. “Eating around me makes me nauseous and the noises make my sensitivity levels go through the roof! I want to ban myself from being around certain people when they eat. Also smells of foods do similar things.” — Tessa B.
  10. “When I am going to faint, people ask me why I stopped, or try to hold me up. Let me be, I will faint completely if I have to talk or if you take my weight off the wall I am leaning on.” — Elisabeth W.
  11. “Tickling. We love to tickle each other to death in our house, but it makes my fibro nerve pain go straight through the roof. I can’t be touched for hours after.” — Gemma C.
  12. “Turning heat on or up. Forced air heat in car or home makes me sick near instantaneously. I do not think my family believes it makes my symptoms that much worse. Then get upset when I close myself in my rooms where I block the vents.” — Jaye G.
  13. “Blast music in the car. It can cause a migraine to hit.” — Jenn B.
  14. “Dragging you through six different stores for four hours on what was supposed to be a quick grocery run, exhausting your energy for the next few days to come.” — Phreny B.
  15. “Telling me to ‘calm down’ or ‘chill out.’ I have Addison’s disease and my hormones can be all over the place. I get annoyed and mad very easily but I try to hold it in because I know it’s because of my hormones. As soon as someone tells me to chill out, I burst because I get so mad.” — Sam T.
  16. “Wear really strong (or too much) perfume or smelly hand lotions. I’m super sensitive to almost all scents.” — Anjuli H.
  17. “Home cooked dinner. I know people try to be nice but I can’t eat a lot of food safely.” — Tiffany T.
  18. “When my kids want to snuggle and climb all over me it takes everything I have not to scream out in absolute pain.” — Hmarie HC
  19. “Asking me to do certain things. I have gotten better at saying no but depending on what it is, I try. I cannot do dishes. I cannot do multiple chores during the day. So if someone asks me to do a lot or gets frustrated at me for not doing enough, I get more stressed and that does not help.” — Alexandria A.
  20. “Burning food because they have the burner up too high. All the smells gather in my room and make me sick to my stomach, as well as incense and scented candles.” — Sherri H.
  21. “More than one person talking loudly at time around a table — I can’t concentrate or differentiate the voices and it gets me so overwhelmed. Or just people talking loudly.” — Beth H.
  22.  “I can’t stand hearing leaf blowers, gas trimmers, bass from car stereos, or high pitched sounds. I have fibromyalgia and sometimes it feels like I’m in a cave and everything echoes. Loud sounds give me a migraine.” — Jenny S.
  23. “Though they mean well and have nothing but good intentions, frequently asking me how I’m doing, how I’m feeling. I work hard to remain positive and distract from the constant pain and health issues, and these questions serve as a reminder when I am just tired of being defined by my health.” — Stephanie H.
Originally published: May 9, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home