Asthma Friday December 11, 2015

How Does Flu Affect Asthma?

Many people are unaware of the potentially serious complications that can arise as a result of having the flu when you also have asthma. For many people with asthma, viruses such as flu can set off symptoms and even lead to an asthma attack.

It's important to know why this is the case. Asthma is essentially characterised by sensitivity and inflammation in the airways. Influenza and other viruses can worsen these two things, and also result in a dry and chesty cough.

When combined with asthma, flu can occasionally develop into serious conditions such as pneumonia and bronchitis.

What is flu?

Flu is a viral infection, so no amount of antibiotics will help you recover. Some of the main symptoms are tiredness, coughing, sneezing and body aches. Flu is similar to a cold, but is usually much more severe. Not to mention that, with Christmas right around the corner, the last thing you want to be concerned about is temperature-induced fevers, nausea and aching muscles.

If you come down with flu you should drink lots of water, rest, and take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Make sure whatever you're taking won't trigger your asthma symptoms.

What might happen if I have asthma?

Flu increases the sensitivity of your airways, so that means you need to be extra cautious at this time of year if you have asthma. A combination of influenza and asthma can lead to swelling, worsening symptoms, and an asthma attack – it can even be fatal.

90% of people with asthma report that colds and flu worsen their symptoms, so it's important to get prepared and stay informed.

Here are some of the symptoms asthma sufferers may experience if they catch flu.

  • Dry, chesty cough
  • An increase in wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • A temperature of 38 or above
  • Green and yellow phlegm
  • Tiredness, fatigue or feeling weak
  • Coughing up mucous
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Headaches, nasal pain and issue with sinus drainage (such as painful cheekbones)

How to prepare for flu season

By following the advice below, you'll be better equipped to get through the winter.

  • Make sure you have enough asthma medication, especially if you are going away.
  • If it's been a while since your last asthma check-up, make an appointment to review your health, medicines and inhaler technique.
  • If you have a preventative inhaler make sure you use it, otherwise your airways may become irritated, making an asthma attack more likely.
  • Your reliever inhaler should never leave your side. Remember that three people a day die from asthma in the UK, and many of these deaths are avoidable.
  • If you're taking an inhaler as prescribed but your symptoms don't improve, or you need to take the reliever three times a week, go back to your doctor or health professional for advice - your dosage may need to change during flu season.

Asthma and flu vaccination

The deputy chief executive of Asthma.org says: '...only some people with asthma need the vaccine to reduce the potentially increased risk of an asthma attack if they get flu.'


Whilst no vaccine is ever 100% effective - and the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies from year to year - if you've had the flu jab you are significantly less likely to get the currently circulating strain of influenza. However, getting the jab doesn't prevent you from catching colds, so it's still important to take other necessary precautions like washing your hands regularly.

Speak to your doctor or nurse about getting the vaccine if any of the following applies to you:

  • You've been hospitalised with asthma over the past year
  • You always take a steroid preventer or steroid tablets
  • You have other risk factors

The flu jab doesn't always prevent flu, but it may lessen the symptoms because your immune system has already fought the virus and created antibodies. It's also important to note that the flu jab may cause side effects such as slight temperature, headaches or aching muscles. Essentially, mild flu symptoms.

How to avoid the flu

Whether you have asthma or not, it's always advised to take these important steps to avoid flu.

  • Hygiene is important. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water to remove germs
  • Don't share your asthma medications, and ensure your inhaler/add-ons are always clean and dry

Speak to your doctor about the pneumococcal vaccination - it's a bacterial pneumonia that can make anyone with asthma very unwell. Look out for sinus symptoms such as headaches and cheekbone pain. See a medical professional before they develop and worsen your asthma.

Stay safe

There are all kinds of triggers for asthma during the festive season, from Christmas trees to central heating, so make note of your symptoms and take your medications with care. For more information, it's always best to talk to your GP about your condition.

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