What's the link between asthma and the flu?

Rose D’Orazio, MGH Revere HealthCare Center nurse manager, shares tips on how parents can protect themselves and their children with asthma during this year's flu season.
Sun Dec 2, 2018

Rose D’Orazio, MGH Revere HealthCare Center nurse manager, shares tips on how parents can protect themselves and their children with asthma during this year's flu season.  

What is asthma?
Asthma is a lung disease that is caused by chronic, or long-term, swelling of the airways in the lungs.  It is one of the most common long-term diseases of children, but adults can have asthma too. 
 

Are people with asthma at a higher risk to get the flu?
Having asthma does not make a person more likely to catch the flu.  But flu infections can be more serious for people with asthma, even if their asthma is mild or their symptoms are well-controlled by medication. People with asthma have swollen and sensitive airways, and the flu can cause more inflammation of the airways and lungs.  Flu infections in the lungs can cause asthma attacks and worsening of asthma symptoms. These infections can also lead to pneumonia and other short-term lung and airway diseases. 

What can I do to protect myself and my child from the flu?
Make sure everyone 6 months of age and older in the family gets a yearly flu vaccine.  People who have asthma have a higher risk of developing other medical issues caused by the flu.  Since flu vaccines are updated each season to keep up with changing viruses, and protection from the flu vaccine wears off throughout the year, it is important to receive the vaccine every year to ensure the best possible protection against the flu.  

In addition to getting a flu vaccine, people with asthma should take everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs, including the flu virus.  This includes covering coughs, washing hands often and avoiding people who are sick.  Your doctor may also suggest the Pneumovax, which is a vaccine that provides protection from developing pneumonia after getting the flu.

Why do I need to get the flu vaccine every year?
The flu vaccine protects against the 4 strains of flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season.  This season’s vaccine has been updated from last season’s vaccine to better match circulating viruses.  Full immunity (or protection) from the flu sets in about 2 weeks after receiving the vaccine.

When is the best time to get the flu vaccine?
Flu season is usually between December and February, but we don’t know exactly when the virus is going to hit or how severe it will be.  That is why it is important to be vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available, which can be as early as late August/early September.

What are signs and symptoms of the flu?
Sometimes it is hard to tell if you have a common cold or the flu.  One of the key differences is that flu symptoms develop suddenly and are worse than a cold.  Flu symptoms include a high fever, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.  Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea.

What is the flu treatment plan for people with asthma?
Treatment works best when started within 48 hours after symptoms start.  Sometimes, doctors give medications called antiviral drugs to fight against flu.  Antiviral drugs help by keeping flu viruses from making more viruses in your body. 

When should you seek emergency care?
If you or your child have asthma and experience any of the following emergency warning signs of flu illness or an asthma attack, seek medical attention right away.

 

In children

In adults 

Fast breathing or trouble breathing

Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

Bluish skin color

Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen

Not drinking enough fluids

Sudden dizziness

Not waking up or not interacting

Confusion

Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held

Severe or persistent vomiting

Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Fever with a rash

 

 

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