Flu vaccinations in brief
- The flu vaccine is an add-on treatment that is strongly recommended for some, but not all, people with asthma.
- 90 per cent of people with asthma say that viruses such as colds and flu can trigger asthma symptoms.
- People who've had the flu vaccine are less likely to get flu, or if they do get it, it's likely to be milder.
- The flu vaccine is usually given between September and early November. If you need it, you'll need it once a year.
- Adults are usually offered the injected flu vaccine.
- Children with asthma between the ages of six months and two years are usually offered the injected flu vaccine because evidence has found that this is more effective for this age group.
- Children with asthma aged between two and 17 are usually offered the nasal flu vaccine, but will be assessed individually.
How does the flu vaccine help some people with asthma?
90 per cent of people with asthma have told us that viruses such as colds and flu are a trigger for them. Asthma causes your airways to become swollen and sensitive to your triggers. Getting the flu causes more swelling and make your airways even more sensitive. This can make your asthma symptoms worse and increase your risk of a potentially life threatening asthma attack.
Getting the flu vaccine creates antibodies in your body that protect you from that particular type of flu, so if you do come across the virus your body will be prepared to fight it off. No vaccine is 100 per cent effective, but people who have had the flu jab are less likely to get flu. And if you do get flu when you've had the jab, it will probably be milder than if you hadn't been vaccinated.
Who should have the flu vaccine?
Anyone can get flu, but it can be more serious for certain people, including:
- people aged 65 or older
- people who have a serious medical condition
- people who are very overweight
- pregnant women
Should everyone with asthma have the flu vaccine?
"No," says Dr Samantha Walker, our deputy chief executive. "Having reviewed the latest research, we believe that the government's public health advice is right, and that only some people with asthma need the vaccine to reduce the potentially increased risk of an asthma attack if they get flu."
Should you have the flu vaccine?
If you have asthma (or if your child has asthma and they're six months or older), you may be eligible for the flu vaccine if:
- you're always or repeatedly on steroid preventer inhalers or steroid tablets
- you've had to go into hospital in the last 12 months because of an asthma attack
- you have other conditions or risk factors that mean you should have one
The important thing to remember is that there aren't any blanket guidelines as to whether an individual with asthma should have the flu vaccine or not. As Sonia Munde, our Head of Helpline says, "Asthma is a complex condition and affects everyone differently." Your GP or asthma nurse will consider your medical history and current circumstances and advise you whether or not you, or your child, need the vaccine.
Remember, though, that:
- The flu jab doesn't guarantee you won't get the flu. Some people who get the flu vaccine might still get flu; but they are less likely to become really unwell with flu than someone who does not get vaccinated.
- You can still catch colds! The flu vaccine doesn't protect you against other viral infections. So it doesn't mean the flu vaccine hasn't worked if you still get coughs and colds.
When should you have the flu vaccine?
- You can catch flu all year round, but it is especially common in winter. That's why the jab is usually given between September and early November.
- The flu vaccine is designed to protect people against the specific flu viruses that are expected to be around in the UK that coming winter. That's why, if you need it, it's important to get the vaccine every year.
- If, on the day of your appointment, you have a high temperature, your flu vaccine may need to be postponed. Make sure you tell your GP or asthma nurse if you're feeling unwell.
Get the right flu protection for you
Find out from your GP if you or your child needs the flu jab
- If you don't know whether or not you, or your child, need a flu jab, make an appointment with your GP or asthma nurse in August or September to discuss it.
- If your doctor recommends you do have the flu vaccine, it will be in the autumn. Ask your doctor when your surgery will have it, and make an appointment as soon as possible, before the virus begins to circulate. Don't worry if you've missed it, you can have the vaccine later in winter if there are stocks left.
- If your doctor says your child needs a flu vaccine, there are two types available for children: an injected flu vaccine and a nasal flu vaccine (which is given as a single dose of nasal spray squirted up each nostril). Your GP will tell you which type is suitable for your child:
Children with asthma between the ages of six months and two years are usually offered the injected flu vaccine because evidence has found that this is more effective for this age group.
Children with asthma aged between two and 17 are usually offered the nasal flu vaccine, but will be assessed individually as it's not suitable for some children, including children who have severe asthma and who are being treated with oral steroids or high dose inhaled steroids. You can read more about who is and isn't suitable for the nasal flu vaccine here.
Always use your asthma medicines as prescribed
- If your GP says you don't need a flu vaccine, using your asthma medicines as prescribed is the best way to make sure your airways are less inflamed and sensitive, so that if you do get flu, you'll be less likely to have worse asthma symptoms or an asthma attack.
- If your GP says you do need a flu vaccine, there's still a chance you'll get a milder form of that type of flu, a different kind of flu and/or a cold, (all potential triggers for asthma symptoms). Taking your asthma medicines every day as prescribed will help to make sure your airways are less inflamed and sensitive. Then if you do get a virus, you're less likely to have worse asthma symptoms or an asthma attack.
Possible side effects of the flu vaccine
- Like all medicines and vaccinations, there are some potential side effects when you have a flu jab, or when your child has a nasal flu vaccine. The good news is that these are usually mild and temporary - and not everyone will experience them. It takes between 10 and 14 days for your immune system to respond to the vaccine fully.
- After having the jab, you may get a slight temperature, headache, fever, shivering, fatigue and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards, and your arm may feel a bit sore or look slightly bruised. Your GP or asthma nurse may advise you to take a painkiller if you do have any of these symptoms.
- The nasal spray flu vaccine has very few side effects, the main one being that vaccinated children may have a runny nose for a short time.
- Other reactions are rare. If you, or your child, experience a severe reaction, such as difficulty breathing, hives, or facial swelling, call 999 immediately.
Flu vaccines and allergies explained
The facts about pig products (porcine gelatine)
Only the nasal flu vaccine used for children (but not the injected flu vaccine) contains gelatine that comes from pork.
- If your child is known to have gelatine allergies, speak to your GP or asthma nurse before they get the nasal spray vaccine
- If you do not want your child to have the nasal flu vaccine because of your religious beliefs, your child can be given the flu vaccine injection instead. However many faith group leaders have said that the use of gelatine in vaccines is acceptable and doesn't break any religious rules because they have been highly processed. You can speak to your GP to discuss other options that may be available for your child - but the decision whether or not to give your child the nasal flu vaccine is up to you.
The facts about egg allergies
The flu vaccine injection (but not the nasal flu vaccine for children) contains small amounts of egg protein so if you or your child is allergic to hens' eggs you can have an alternative such as an egg-free inactivated flu vaccine. Speak to your GP if you have a known allergy to hens' eggs before you get the injected flu vaccine.
Know what to do if your asthma symptoms do get worse
"Even if you take your medicines as prescribed, and have the flu vaccine if it is recommended for you, there's still a chance you can get the flu and your asthma symptoms could get worse," says Sonia. "Make sure you know what to do if your symptoms do get worse, by using the step-by-step instructions in your written asthma action plan."
Last updated April 2016
Next review due April 2019