Asthma is a chronic disease that affects 1 in 13 people, according to the CDC. While most people are able properly manage their respiratory condition and greatly minimize its symptoms, asthma becomes a serious threat for all asthma sufferers during flu season.
If you have asthma, it doesn’t mean that you are necessarily more likely to get the flu. However, you are at a much greater risk for complications related to the flu. Both the flu and asthma can compromise the respiratory system (your breathing), so having them at the same time can be a dangerous mix. In fact, the lungs can be exposed to permanent damage in some cases.
Flu and Respiratory Complications
Asthma is a life-long disease that can vary in severity for each individual. Asthma involves inflammation and narrowing of the airways. It can also mean extra production of mucus in the airways. These factors trigger common asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness. While inhalers can help treat and manage asthma, some patients are vulnerable to serious, life-threatening asthma attacks.
Influenza (“the flu”) is a viral illness instead of a chronic disease like asthma. However, influenza can trigger symptoms of asthma and lead to respiratory complications that are difficult to fight off if you have asthma. Not only can your wheezing get worse, but the combination of the flu and asthma symptoms can increase your risk of pneumonia and hospitalization. Children and adults over 65 are at the most risk.
The statistics for asthmatic children during flu season is concerning. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, 32 percent of children hospitalized for seasonal influenza between 2003 and 2009 had asthma. If you have a child with asthma, however, there are some things you can do to avoid the hospital during flu season.
Prevention is Key
First and foremost, asthma sufferers need to go the extra mile in preventing the flu virus. While there is no guarantee and foolproof method to avoid the flu, there are steps you can take before and during flu season to greatly lessen your chances of getting it and suffering severe consequences.
Start by getting your annual flu vaccine. This takes just minutes at your physician’s office, and it is typically at a low or no cost if you have insurance. Each annual vaccine is designed to prevent the four predicted predominate strains of influenza for that year. Don’t wait too late, as flu season can begin as early as October and extend into late May. Lastly, to prevent an asthma attack, get the nasal spray instead of the shot. Many asthma sufferers also find it beneficial to get the pneumonia vaccine if it is available, to further decrease their risk for serious flu complications.
Beyond vaccination, it is imperative that you practice good hygiene. Wash your hands more diligently during flu season and avoid touching your hands to your face. If you know of someone who has the flu, do your best to steer clear. The flu virus can contagious for up to 7 days or more!
Don’t Wait for Treatment
Sometimes even your best efforts don’t protect you from getting the flu. If you have asthma and experience flu symptoms (coughing, body aches, fever), don’t panic. However, don’t wait to call your doctor either. If the flu is caught within 24-48 hours, you can take a prescribed antiviral medication to suppress flu activity and reduce inflammation within your airways that could lead to serious threats for an asthma sufferer. There may also be antiviral therapy available to you if you believe you have been exposed to the flu, such as from a family member or co-worker. Don’t hesitate to ask your physician, as a proactive approach is encouraged when it comes to the flu and asthma.
Have more questions about what to do when the flu and asthma mix? Call Dr. Brent Michael. He is a caring and knowledgeable physician who cares about keeping your family healthy and safe during flu season.