Why colds and flu trigger your asthma
It's vitally important to take care of yourself when bugs are about. 81% of people with asthma say their asthma symptoms get worse when they have a cold or flu, putting them at risk of a potentially life threatening asthma attack.
When you have a cold or flu, your airways become more inflamed and you produce more mucus – so there’s less room for the air to get through. This can make it harder to breathe, even if you only have mild asthma, and set off your asthma symptoms.
5 steps to reduce the risks of colds and flu
It’s hard to avoid colds and flu, but there are steps you can take to reduce the chance of catching them or help your body recover more quickly if you do.
- Wash your hands frequently to reduce the risk of catching a cold or flu.
- Take care to avoid sharing towels, cups or other household items with someone who may have a cold.
- Look after yourself: get plenty of sleep and try to reduce your stress levels.
- Get your annual flu vaccine. If you’ve been prescribed a preventer inhaler or have been in hospital because of asthma in the past, you can have the vaccination for free at your doctor’s surgery or many pharmacies.
- Arrange an asthma review with your doctor or asthma nurse. Ask them to update your Asthma Action Plan to help you stay well.
5 ways to protect yourself from an asthma attack when you have a cold or flu:
- If you’ve got a preventer inhaler, take it every day, as prescribed. It helps to control inflammation in your lungs, meaning you’re less likely to have an asthma attack even if you do come into contact with a trigger like a cold or flu virus. Watch our videos to help you improve your inhaler technique so you get the best protection levels.
- Carry your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you. If you need to use it three or more times a week, see your doctor.
- Keep your medicines close so you can reach them if you're ill in bed - you still need to take your preventer inhaler as prescribed.
- Don't ignore your symptoms, especially if you feel breathless or wheezy - you might think it's 'just a cold', but remember it could trigger a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.
- If after using your reliever inhaler your symptoms return within four hours, make a same-day appointment with your doctor.
- Rest. Take paracetamol for aches and pains and drink lots of water and other drinks. Flu especially can really wipe you out, so don’t try to do too much too soon.
Advice if cold weather triggers your asthma
If you’re looking for help because cold weather makes your asthma worse, see our cold weather advice.
Last updated September 2019
Next review September 2022
Asthma action plans keep all your personal triggers and medicines tips in one place. Download one now to fill in with your doctor or nurse.
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