The Flu and Asthma

Why It's So Important to Treat Flu When You Have Asthma

Flu asthma
Female With Asthma Inhaler. Photo © Getty Images- Stockbyte

You may think of yourself as being like everyone else when you get sick, but you -- as someone with asthma -- need to take the flu even more seriously. The flu poses some additional concerns for you as compared to those with healthy lungs.

Flu treatment is more important in patients with asthma as the flu can easily land you in the hospital and you may be more likely to end up with some flu complications.

The best treatment is to prevent a flu infection from ever occurring and getting vaccinated (remember that the the inhaled flu vaccinations are not appropriate for asthma patients and asthmatics need to get the "flu shot."

The flu virus causes swelling and inflammation in the lungs that may lead to worsening of your asthma symptoms such as:

The flu can also lead to pneumonia and other acute respiratory problems, and respiratory infections can be much more serious when paired with asthma than without. In fact, adults and children with asthma are more likely to be hospitalized with acute respiratory illnesses than patients without asthma during flu outbreaks.

Every flu season is different with some causing more problems than others. This is no different when you have asthma. Between 1976 and 2009 flu deaths ranged from a low of around 3000 to a high of around 49,000.

While the most deaths occur in patients over the age of 65, all age groups are impacted.

Your local area is very important related to the flu. Some communities will experience flu cases as early as October and as late as May. So just because you have not heard about a case of the flu yet or heard about one in a while, it does not mean that your symptoms are not flu.

Closely following your asthma action plan is key, as is knowing the additional steps that are important to take when the flu strikes.

Medication When You Have the Flu and Asthma

Doctors treat flu with a class of drugs known as antivirals. These drugs are important in decreasing your risk of your asthma worsening if you get the flu, and may prevent more severe complications like pneumonia. Antivirals are only available via prescription form your healthcare provider.

Depending on the flu strains in your community, your doctor may recommend one or a combination of the following currently available antiviral medications:

  • Tamiflu (oseltamivir)
  • Relenza (zanamivir)
  • Flumadine (rimantidine)

Do I Have to Opt for Medication? Can't I Just See if I Get Better?

In general, all asthmatics who are suspected of having flu or who have a positive diagnostic test for the flu should consider antiviral treatment. Unlike patients without asthma, you may benefit from antiviral treatment even if diagnosed more than 48 hours after symptoms develop. See your doctor as soon as you suspect the flu.

If you have asthma and were not vaccinated, your doctor may also recommend that you get vaccinated at the time you are diagnosed with flu.

Learn More About Preventing Flu

Can I Prevent the Flu if I Am Exposed to Someone with Known Flu?

Asthma patients may receive the same antiviral medications mentioned above to prevent the flu if they have been exposed to a known case. This is called chemoprophylaxis. Unlike treatment, your doctor may not offer chemoprophylaxis if more than 48 hours have elapsed, so get to your doctor as soon as you have been exposed. You will likely be on medication for 10 days to 2 weeks.

Chemoprophylaxis decreases but does not totally eliminate the chances of you coming down with the flu.

As such, make sure you talk with your doctor if you develop any signs or symptoms of the flu.


Centers For Disease Control. Accessed May 30, 2016. Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine.

Rank MA, Li JT. Clinical pearls for preventing, diagnosing, and treating seasonal and 2009 H1N1 influenza infection in patients with asthma. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Accessed May 30, 2016.

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