Flu and asthma - the lowdown


Viruses are triggers for around 90% of people with asthma which basically means that if you have asthma and catch the flu virus your asthma may get worse. So is there anything you can do to help protect your health in flu season? 

Tackle your asthma first

"Our advice is to take your asthma medicines as prescribed, regularly and in the correct way. Consult your health care professional to check that you are using the correct technique for taking your inhaler medication," says Dr Samantha Walker Executive Director, Research & Policy at Asthma UK.

"This is the best way to make sure your asthma is as well controlled as possible, so that you are less likely to react when exposed to the flu virus," says Debby Waddell, lead clinical advisor for Asthma UK. 

"Being prepared in case you do get flu and your asthma gets worse is also crucial,’ says Debby. ‘Make sure you know how to manage your asthma if your symptoms do get worse by using an asthma action plan, with step-by-step instructions. Download one here and ask your GP or nurse to fill it in with you."

"Research has shown that you are four times more likely to be admitted to hospital if you don’t have an action plan," says Dr Samantha Walker.
Cut your risk of catching flu

How do you know if you have flu?

On average it takes two to three days for the symptoms to start once you have been infected.

  • You’ll get a sudden fever (high temperature), chills, headache, muscle aches and feel extremely tired.
  • You may get a dry cough, sore throat and stuffy nose
  • Young children may get vomiting and diarrhoea 
"You can reduce your chance of getting infected with flu," says Debby. Flu spreads quickly from person to person through droplets in the air or by physical contact with an infected person or by touching an infected surface and then touching your mouth or eyes.

Simple DIY flu protection

"There are things we can do that may reduce your chance of being infected with the flu virus, or passing the virus on to others if you have it." says Debby.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with tissue when you cough or sneeze, throw away the issue and wash hands thoroughly
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water
  • Regularly clean hard surfaces such as your phone, keyboard and door handles (where the virus can survive)
  • Eating a healthy, varied diet and getting enough sleep to keep your immune system in good shape
Is the flu vaccine right for you?

The flu vaccine is designed to protect people against the specific flu viruses that are expected to be around in the UK this winter. It doesn’t protect you against ALL flu viruses. People eligible for the flu vaccine should have it as soon as possible sometime between September and early November. So should everyone with asthma have the flu vaccine?

"No," says Dr Samantha Walker. ‘Having reviewed the latest research, Asthma UK believes that public health advice is right, and only some people with asthma need the vaccine."

Your GP/asthma nurse will advise you on whether you, or your child, need the vaccine or not. You or any children over six months old may be eligible if:

  • you’re continuously (all the time) or repeatedly on steroid preventer inhalers or steroid tablets
  • you’ve had to go into hospital because of an asthma attack
  • you have other conditions or risk factors that mean you should have one (see the NHS criteria here)
Debby Waddell, Lead Clinical Advisor for Asthma UK, says: "Speak to your GP or asthma nurse to see if you are somebody who should have the flu jab. Asthma is a complex condition and affects everyone differently.  If you’re eligible, make an appointment to have your flu jab as soon as possible before the virus begins to circulate."

Last updated: 10 October 2014

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