If you’ve ever had flu, you’ll know it can put you in bed for days. And it’s not just a horrible illness. Even if you only have mild asthma, flu can trigger symptoms that could leave you fighting for breath.
Eight out of ten people with asthma say flu triggers their asthma symptoms, raising the risk of a life-threatening asthma attack,”
Dr Andy, Asthma UK’s in-house GP
If you’ve been prescribed a preventer inhaler alongside your blue inhaler, you can get the flu vaccine for free. In some areas you can avoid the hassle of an appointment by going to your local pharmacy (take your brown inhaler or prescription with you to prove you’re eligible.)
The best time to get the flu vaccine is in the Autumn, from the beginning of October to November.
Your GP may be running flu clinics where you can just turn up and get vaccinated.
Don’t just rely on vaccinating – take your preventer inhaler
Taking your preventer medicine as prescribed will help keep all your triggers at bay, all winter.
Alongside using their preventer inhaler as prescribed, the flu vaccine will help to protect your child from an asthma attack triggered by flu.
The vaccine is usually given as a nasal spray, not an injection. The spray is not recommended for children on oral steroids (pills or liquids). If your child is wheezy, or has been wheezing in the last 72 hours, they may also not be able to have the vaccine. Speak to your GP surgery, school immunisation team or our asthma nurses if you're not sure whether your child should have the vaccine.
How to get the free vaccine for your child
Children in England can get the vaccine at school from Reception to year six. Children aged two and three, and 10 or older who have a preventer inhaler can get the vaccine at their GP’s surgery.
Sometimes it can take a while for vaccinations to happen in schools. If you’re still waiting and you're worried about your child catching flu, try asking your GP if they'll vaccinate them at the surgery instead.
It’s natural to worry about side effects. Here are some common fears:
1) Worrying the injection will give you flu and trigger an asthma attack
The jab is a ‘dead vaccine’, so can’t give you flu. The nasal spray is a live vaccine, but the live virus is given in tiny amounts and healthy children won’t catch flu from it. You can find more reassurance here.
2) Knowing the vaccine might make you feel under the weather
You might get a sore arm, and possibly a slight temperature, headache and aching muscles for a couple of days. See the NHS’s advice on how to treat mild side effects.
3) Fears of an allergic reaction
Very rarely, people get a severe allergic reaction, usually within a few hours of having the vaccine. If you had a reaction, however small, last time then let your GP or pharmacist know.
If you’re still not sure whether you or your child should have the vaccine, speak to your GP or pharmacist or contact one of our asthma nurses using our WhatsApp service.
Will the flu vaccine work? The facts
The flu viruses change each year and the vaccine is updated accordingly – that’s why it’s recommended that you have the latest vaccine every autumn.
Sometimes, though, people catch flu even after having the vaccine because it’s not always possible for the flu vaccine to be an exact match.
Because the vaccine takes time to work, if you catch flu just before having your jab, it might seem like it’s ‘failed’. Even so, the flu you get will probably be milder.
Let your GP know if you’re allergic to eggs – one of the injectable flu vaccines for people with long term conditions like asthma contains egg, but there is an alternative.
The nasal spray for children contains pork gelatine and tiny quantities of egg. Some faith groups say it’s OK to use pork gelatine for medical purposes, but it’s your decision. You can find more details here.
Who to speak to if you have worries or questions
Your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist will have all the latest information about flu vaccination, or you can speak to an asthma expert nurse on the Asthma UK helpline (0300 222 5800, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm) or message them via WhatsApp on 07378 606728.
See more advice from Asthma UK about protecting yourself from colds and flu this winter.
Last updated October 2019
Next update due October 2022