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Diseases & Conditions

Asthma Plus Flu Can Be a Breathtaking Combination

If you have asthma, you need to take precautions during flu season.

Asthma patient.

People with asthma are no more likely to catch the flu, or influenza, than people without asthma. But when people with asthma get the flu, it can literally take their breath away.

“Infection with influenza can trigger an asthma exacerbation. People with asthma are at substantially elevated risk for a serious flare needing ER management or hospitalization,” says Cleveland Clinic allergist David Lang, MD.

This makes people with asthma good candidates for flu shots every year. “Flares can be prevented by influenza vaccination,” says Dr. Lang.

Flu Shots Won’t Worsen Asthma

There is a misconception that flu shots will make you sick or make your asthma worse. Not the case, says Dr. Lang.

“Flu vaccine contains material made to resemble the virus, so it makes the body produce antibodies that protect against the virus,” he explains. “If you experience fever, aches and feel out of sorts for 24 to 36 hours after a flu shot, it’s your immune system revving up in response to the vaccine. It’s not the flu.”

If you are allergic to eggs, don’t schedule a flu shot without consulting your allergist.

Dr. Lang adds that people with lung diseases, including asthma, might also consider receiving the pneumonia vaccine (Pneumovax®).

Practical Protective Measures

Common-sense avoidance measures are also important. Flu is spread through droplets, so wash your hands often, and keep them away from your face.

By the way, maintaining control of your asthma will help your lungs cope better with flu if you get it. Well-controlled asthma does not awaken you at night, restrict your activities, or cause you to need your rescue inhaler more than twice a week.

What to Do If You Get the Flu

Despite your best efforts, the flu may be unavoidable. “If you develop symptoms of flu, get a prescription for a medication such as Tamiflu® (oseltamivir) within 48 hours,” Dr. Lang advises.

What’s the Flu and What’s Not?

The following are symptoms of flu:

  • Fever (100° F or higher)
  • Chills
  • Dry (nonproductive) cough
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Severe fatigue
  • Headache

However, flu rarely causes:

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Itchy eyes
  • Abdominal distress, nausea or diarrhea (the exception is H1N1 flu).