4 Myths About Living With Asthma During the Flu Season

The cold weather is almost synonymously associated with the flu season. This time of the year can be quite challenging for those who suffer from asthma or other respiratory diseases. However, there are a number of myths linked with how to treat asthma during this time period. The fact is that if you properly manage your asthma, then it will prove to be helpful to deal with the symptoms that are typically brought on by the cold and flu. Living with asthma, especially during the cold and flu season, is a challenging job. But, by dispelling the myths associated with living with asthma during the flu season, can help you manage your condition better. Let us take a look at some of the most popular myths about living with asthma during the flu season and how to manage your symptoms in a more efficient manner at this time of the year.

Overview

Cold and flu season is challenging for everyone, and for those who live with asthma, it can be especially difficult to manage their symptoms. Doctors have observed that during the cold and flu season, when people come into the hospital with a flare-up of their asthma, it is usually due to influenza or a viral upper respiratory tract infection. These are traditionally the provoking factors responsible for triggering the asthma flare-up.(1)

However, the fact is that there are many common myths that create a lot of confusion in people about asthma and the flu. We attempt to clarify some of these common myths about living with asthma during the flu season.

Myth 1: Flu or Cold Does Not Affect You If You Have Well-Managed Asthma

This is perhaps the biggest myth of all that if you have your asthma under control and well-managed, then the common cold or the flu will not cause any issues. This could not be further from the truth.

The fact is that a cold or the flu can aggravate the symptoms of even the most well-managed asthma. This happens due to inflammation.

When the body is exposed to the flu or a cold, then the immune system starts planning an attack way before in order to prevent the virus from settling in the body. Most people will recognize the symptoms of the flu and cold immediately as being a runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, and coughing. However, these are all again associated with the stage of the flu and cold that is inflammation. Inflammation is the natural response of your body trying to keep the virus from getting deeper into the lungs.

Even if you have your asthma under control and your symptoms are well-managed, when the immune system recognizes an attack by the flu or cold virus, it will still start producing more inflammatory cells. This can lead to a flare-up for even the most well-managed asthma in the form of more asthma symptoms. This is why it necessary to keep taking your asthma medications, even if you are not feeling any symptoms. Many times it happens that when people have under control asthma, they stop taking their medications. However, it is important to realize that the asthma is under control because of the medicines only. So if you leave your asthma untreated and there are no symptoms, then also it can lead to certain changes in the airways, a condition known as remodeling. This is what makes you more prone to experiencing more severe symptoms of asthma at a later stage. Remember that severe asthma is much more challenging to treat.

Myth 2: People with Asthma Should Not Get The Flu Shot

The basis of this myth is based on the misbelief that the flu vaccine will lead to an asthma flare-up. However, there is absolutely no evidence to support this belief.(2)

If you have asthma, then you need to take the flu vaccine even more than an average person. This is because, with asthma and other chronic lung disorders such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, exposure to the cold or flu can lead to a very severe attack of lung disease. Such an aggravated response does not happen in those who have healthy lungs.

The only people who should not be taking the flu shot are those who have had a severe allergic reaction to the flu shot in the past, and this allergic reaction has been diagnosed by a doctor. (3)

The allergic response must be diagnosed by a doctor because many people feel that they are having a reaction to the flu shot, but often it turns out to be something else that just coincided with the flu shot at the same time. So until unless a doctor tells you explicitly that you should not get the flu shot, nearly everyone with asthma should be getting the flu shot. (4)

Myth 3: Allergens and an Increase in Asthma Symptoms

There is a widespread belief that all forms of asthma get triggered by allergens in the air. However, there is only a certain type of asthma that is triggered by allergens. (5)

There are many causes of asthma, and it is a complex disease. The only common factor in all types of asthma is that the condition has to do with airway hyperactivity, and it can be distinguished in a similar manner on pulmonary function tests during diagnosis. However, the type of asthma that is caused by allergens is only a small subset.

Even though allergens are a big trigger for people who have asthma and they have to manage their day-to-day lives in a manner in which they can avoid these allergens, but the fact is that the number one trigger for an asthma flare-up remains the common cold and flu viruses.

In children, primarily, the cold and flu viruses are known to trigger nearly 80 percent of all asthma flare-ups. (6)

So even if the allergens are appropriately managed, it is still possible for people to experience a flare-up of their asthma symptoms due to cold and flu, making it imperative that you take extra care when you have a cold or flu.

Myth 4: Children Who Have Asthma Catch More Colds

There is no evidence to show that children who have asthma catch more colds than children who don’t have asthma. In fact, it has been observed that children, with or without asthma, end up getting nearly the same number of colds each year. (7)

Most children, regardless of whether they have asthma or not, end up getting six to eight colds each year. The difference is that children who have asthma are hit harder when they catch a cold, and their symptoms are also much worse. The cold is also likely to make the airways react, so even if the virus goes away, there is a high possibility that the child will continue to experience the symptoms of the cold, such as a persistent cough. (8)

Conclusion: How to Avoid Asthma Flare-ups During Cold and Flu Season?

Getting the flu shot is the best defense for people with asthma during the cold and flu season. The reason why the influenza virus is so tricky to manage is because the strain of the virus varies from year to year, and it can cause very severe diseases, killing many people each year. The saving grace here is that there is a vaccine that can prevent or at least dramatically reduce the severity of the flu in people.

Apart from the influenza virus, though, there can also be many other respiratory viruses that can prove to be a problem for people with asthma. The only hope people have is to manage their symptoms and avail treatment in a timely manner.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when you are guarding yourself against other types of colds and viruses:

  1. Wash your hands frequently.
  2. Avoid sharing your drinks and food. Also, avoid sharing objects that can have germs, such as mobile phones.
  3. If you have asthma, then keep your nebulizers clean and in a proper working condition. Remember that they should ideally be replaced once in six months.

Discuss an asthma action plan with your doctor and make sure that you monitor your symptoms and know how and when to take your medications if you notice an increase in your symptoms. While nobody can avoid catching a cold or the flu from time to time, but being prepared and ready to handle your symptoms is the best way to deal with them and avoid having a flare-up of your asthma.

References:

  1. Kloepfer, K.M., Olenec, J.P., Lee, W.M., Liu, G., Vrtis, R.F., Roberg, K.A., Evans, M.D., Gangnon, R.E., Lemanske Jr, R.F. and Gern, J.E., 2012. Increased H1N1 infection rate in children with asthma. American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine, 185(12), pp.1275-1279.
  2. Szilagyi, P.G., Rodewald, L.E., Savageau, J., Yoos, L. and Doane, C., 1992. Improving influenza vaccination rates in children with asthma: a test of a computerized reminder system and an analysis of factors predicting vaccination compliance. Pediatrics, 90(6), pp.871-875.
  3. Hall, C.B., 1987. Influenza: a shot or not?. Pediatrics, 79(4), pp.564-566.
  4. Margolis, K.L., Poland, G.A., Nichol, K.L., MacPherson, D.S., Meyer, J.D., Korn, J.E. and Lofgren, R.P., 1990. Frequency of adverse reactions after influenza vaccination. The American journal of medicine, 88(1), pp.27-30.
  5. Pawankar, R., Canonica, G.W., Holgate, S.T. and Lockey, R.F., 2012. Allergic diseases and asthma: a major global health concern. Current opinion in allergy and clinical immunology, 12(1), pp.39-41.
  6. Sears, M.R., 1998. Evolution of asthma through childhood. Clinical and experimental allergy: journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 28, pp.82-9.
  7. Olenec, J.P., Kim, W.K., Lee, W.M., Vang, F., Pappas, T.E., Salazar, L.E., Evans, M.D., Bork, J., Roberg, K., Lemanske Jr, R.F. and Gern, J.E., 2010. Weekly monitoring of children with asthma for infections and illness during common cold seasons. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 125(5), pp.1001-1006.
  8. De Jongste, J.C. and Shields, M.D., 2003. Cough• 2: Chronic cough in children. Thorax, 58(11), pp.998-1003.

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