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this image shows where myelin is in the brain along with the difference between healthy myelin and myelin destroyed by Multiple sclerosis.

The Silent Illness

September 9, 2022

When you see a fellow student walking down the hall on crutches or wearing a sling, you probably feel sympathy for them. It’s only natural to ask them how they are doing and wish them a speedy recovery. But what about the people whose illnesses you can’t see? Those who suffer from chronic conditions, such as diabetes and mental illness, equally impact their daily lives?

One unseen illness which has no outward signs yet affects people is multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis (also known as MS) affects over one million people in the United States alone. While MS is not widely known or talked about, especially among teens, some prominent people have brought light to this difficult illness, including Dead to Me star Christina Applegate, who was diagnosed with MS when she was 49. Applegate tweeted that her goal for 2022 is to find a cure for MS. Other famous people struggling with MS include actress Selma Blair, reality TV star Jack Osbourne, country music star Clay Walker, and actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler. 

The disease doesn’t just affect adults A little under 5,000 children live with pediatric onset multiple sclerosis (POMS). Between 3-5% of POMS cases are diagnosed before the age of 16, with less than 1%  diagnosed before age 10. Healthline defines POMS as “an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks a substance called myelin that surrounds and protects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord.”

The cause of POMS is unknown, but genetics don’t seem to have a big effect on who develops it. Even though children don’t inherit POMS, having a certain gene combination, or having parents with MS, gives a child a slightly higher chance of developing POMS. Some researchers believe that having low vitamin D levels and past exposure to Epstein-Barr virus may be connected to an increased risk of POMS. 

Smoking may also play a role. According to, “Cigarette smoke, both firsthand use and secondhand exposure, has been shown to increase the risk of developing MS.” 

Since POMS is so uncommon, most doctors don’t automatically suspect it when a patient begins to have symptoms. To be able to diagnose a child with POMS, a doctor has to see evidence of  POMS in two parts of the central nervous system., and it has such vague symptoms that it’s often misdiagnosed. Some symptoms of  POMS include tremors, balance problems, weakness, tingling, numbness, slurred speech, and involuntary muscle spasms.

While there are multiple treatments for POMS, there is no cure. Occupational, speech, and physical therapy can be helpful with managing POMS. There are also ways to prevent certain symptoms from getting worse, including diet changes and physical activity.  

POMS can affect a child’s or teen’s mental health, so it’s important for children with POMS to have the support of therapists or school counselors. It can also help children to connect with others who suffer from it. Most children and teens with the disease will live a long life, but early diagnosis and treatment is important. Children and teens with POMS need help with their self-image, relationships, and understanding that they still have a future. 

For more information about the signs, symptoms, and treatment of POMS, check out the following sites:



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About the Contributor
Photo of Somer Sweitzer
Somer Sweitzer, Journalist

Somer is in 12th grade, this is her first year in Journalism. She likes to cook and run for fun. She wishes to travel to Germany one day.

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