What’s Worse Than Flu or Asthma? Both

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The flu is something we all want to avoid.

And if you have asthma, you have even more reason to protect yourself from a flu infection. Though you’re not more likely to come down with the flu if you have asthma, the flu can cause more frequent and severe asthma attacks. Even if you have mild asthma and keep your symptoms under control with medication.

Why?

With asthma, your airways are already swollen, inflamed and sensitive. A flu infection can aggravate the inflammation and trigger an asthma attack.

Among children hospitalized with the flu, asthma is the most common accompanying medical condition — and one of the top medical conditions of adults admitted with the flu.

And flu on top of asthma can increase your risk for pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses. 

How to Lower Your Risk of the Flu

A flu vaccination is your first line of defense against the flu virus. You should be vaccinated each fall, as flu viruses change year to year. The flu vaccine triggers development of antibodies, which fight the virus when you’re exposed to it. 

Flu vaccines come in two forms — an injection (shot) and nasal spray. Avoid the nasal spray if you have asthma or other chronic health condition. The shot contains killed virus, while the spray contains weakened live viruses and is approved only for healthy people ages 5 to 49. The flu shot is approved for very young children and those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma.

Being vaccinated reduces your chances of coming down with the flu, but does not guarantee you won’t get sick. 

As a second layer of defense and to prevent spreading the virus to others, adopt these everyday practices:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, the pathways to flu infection
  • Frequently clean and disinfect touched surfaces like door knobs and computer keyboards
  • Stay home when you are sick, and avoid others who are ill
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow or shoulder. Never your hands.
  • Follow an up-to-date asthma action plan created with your health care provider. Make sure your child’s asthma action plan is on file at her school or daycare center.
A flu infection can aggravate the inflammation and trigger an asthma attack.

If You Do Get the Flu, Get Prompt Treatment

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Prompt treatment for the flu is especially important if you have asthma or other chronic conditions that raise your risk of serious complications. When you notice flu symptoms, call your doctor. 

Your doctor can prescribe antiviral drugs, which are most effective when started within 48 hours after symptoms start. These drugs can make the illness milder and help you feel better sooner. And they can help prevent complications.

Two antiviral drugs — oseltamivir (trade name Tamiflu®) and peramivir (trade name Rapivab®) — can be prescribed to people with asthma. However, zanamivir (trade name Relenza®) may cause wheezing in people with asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Over-the-counter medications also are available to relieve flu symptoms. Getting plenty of rest and fluids and avoiding alcohol and tobacco can also help your recovery.

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