If you have asthma, having a cold or flu can worsen your symptoms. This is because the viruses can affect your airways and throat. A cold or flu won’t make your asthma worse in the long run, but it might make your symptoms worse in the short-term.
Cold and flu viruses are common triggers for people with asthma, and they’re difficult to avoid. It’s impossible to avoid catching a cold or flu. However, there are some things you can do to lower your risk of infection.
Some ways to avoid catching a cold or flu are:
- washing your hands regularly
- eating a balanced diet
- exercising regularly
getting enough sleep
- getting a flu jab
If you have a cold or flu, you can lower the risk of the virus affecting your asthma symptoms or causing an asthma attack by using your preventer inhaler every day, or as prescribed. Using your preventer inhaler will help to control the inflammation in your lungs.
You should also follow your asthma action plan. Asthma UK estimates that people who have an asthma action plan are four times less likely to need to go to hospital for an asthma attack. If you don’t have a plan, talk to your doctor or asthma nurse to make one.
If you have any concerns about your asthma symptoms, speak to your doctor or asthma nurse for advice. Asthma is a common but serious condition. If left untreated or uncontrolled, it can be dangerous.
Does cold weather have an impact on asthma?
Changes in temperature can impact asthma symptoms, especially very cold or damp weather. Breathing cold air into the lungs can cause your airways to restrict and trigger asthma.
Cold periods are peak times for admissions into hospital for asthma attacks. It’s estimated that cold weather triggers symptoms in around three quarters of all people with asthma in the UK.
Keep your asthma symptoms under control during cold weather by:
- using your preventer inhaler (brown) regularly, as prescribed by your doctor
- keep your reliever inhaler (blue) with you at all times
- speak to your doctor for a medication review if you find that you are using your reliever inhaler more than usual
- wrap up warmly
- wear a scarf around your nose and mouth in very cold weather
- take extra care if you’re exercising
Any sudden change in temperature (like really cold, hot, or damp weather) can worsen asthma. Make sure you follow your asthma action plan and carry your reliever inhaler (blue) with you at all times in case of an attack.
How can you distinguish between asthma and a prolonged cold?
It’s important to understand which symptoms are a sign of asthma, and which are the signs or a common cold or flu.
Asthma is mainly associated with the airways of your lungs (the lower airways). Colds are the result of viruses, which typically affect your nose and throat (the upper airways).
Key signs of asthma are:
- shortness of breath
- coughing much more than usual
- a tight feeling in your chest
- difficulty speaking full sentences
Asthma does not usually cause:
- a sore throat
- a fever or chills
- muscle aches or pains
- a runny nose
- weakness or fatigue
- headache or toothache
These are all indications of a cold or flu.
If in doubt, talk to your nurse or doctor about your symptoms and for a full check-up.
Can bronchitis make symptoms worse?
Bronchitis is a common respiratory disorder (affecting your airways and breathing), just like asthma. Because it affects your airways, bronchitis can make your asthma worse.
Unlike asthma, bronchitis is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. This means that bronchitis can be contagious (it can be passed from person-to-person).
The symptoms of bronchitis are similar to the symptoms of asthma (wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, chest tightness). If you experience these symptoms, you should visit your nurse or doctor for a check-up. Both asthma and bronchitis are potentially very dangerous if left untreated or uncontrolled.
How to manage asthma when you have an infection
You should take extra care to manage your asthma when you have an infection, like a cold or flu.
Make sure you take your preventer inhaler (brown) as prescribed by your asthma nurse or doctor. This will help control the inflammation in your lungs, which could be made worse by your infection.
If you notice that you need to use your reliever inhaler (blue) more than usual, speak to your asthma nurse or doctor. You might need to increase your medication, or change your asthma action plan.
Make sure you carry your reliever inhaler (blue) with you at all times, in case you have an asthma attack.