Asthma The Flu and You

People with Asthma Are at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications

Woman with flu on couchThough people with asthma are not more likely to get the flu, influenza can be more serious for people with asthma, even if their asthma is mild or their symptoms are well controlled by medication. This is because people with asthma have swollen and sensitive airways and influenza can cause further inflammation of the airways and lungs. 

Influenza infection in the lungs can trigger asthma attacks and a worsening of asthma symptoms. It also can lead to pneumonia and other acute respiratory diseases. In fact, adults and children with asthma are more likely to develop pneumonia after getting sick with the flu than people who do not have asthma. Asthma is the most common medical condition among children hospitalized with the flu and one of the more common medical conditions among hospitalized adults. 

If You Have Asthma, You Need to Take Steps to Fight the Flu

Get a flu vaccine. Everyone with asthma who is six months old and older should get a flu vaccine to protect against getting the flu. Vaccination is the first and most important step in protecting against influenza. Even if you don’t have a regular doctor or nurse, you can get a flu vaccine. Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including doctors’ offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies, college health centers, and, increasingly, by a number of employers and public schools.

Influenza infection in the lungs can trigger asthma attacks and a worsening of asthma symptoms.

People with asthma should also consider getting a pneumococcal vaccine. Pneumococcal infections are a serious complication of influenza and can cause death. Pneumococcal vaccines may be given at the same time as the influenza vaccine.

Take steps to stop the spread of flu. Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care. Also, stay away from anyone who may be sick. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and throw the tissue away. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow or shoulder, never your bare hands. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth (germs are spread that way). Finally, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work, or school, especially when someone is ill.

Follow your Asthma Action Plan. If you have asthma, you should also have an updated, written Asthma Action Plan developed with your doctor. Follow your plan for daily treatment to control your asthma long term and to handle worsening asthma or attacks. If your child has asthma, make sure that his or her up-to-date, written Asthma Action Plan is on file at school or the daycare center. Be sure that the plan and medications are easy to get to when needed.

Call your doctor if think you have the flu. If you do get sick with flu symptoms, call your doctor and take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor recommends them. Treatment should begin as soon as possible because antiviral drug treatment works best when started early (within 48 hours after symptoms start). Antiviral drugs can make your flu illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious health problems that can result from flu illness.

Oseltamivir (available as a generic version or under the trade name Tamiflu®) or peramivir (Rapivab®) are the two antiviral drugs that can be used to treat flu in people with asthma. People with asthma should not use zanamivir (Relenza®), a different antiviral drug, because there is a risk it may cause wheezing in people that already have asthma or other lung problems. For you to get an antiviral drug, a doctor needs to write a prescription. These medicines fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from making more viruses in your body.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Fall/Winter 2017-2018.