Asthma: Limit asthma attacks caused by colds or flu

A cold or the flu can trigger an asthma attack. Here's why — and how to keep your sneeze from turning into a wheeze. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Respiratory infections, such as colds and the flu, are one of the most common causes of asthma flare-ups, especially in young children. A stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, fever, or other signs and symptoms caused by a cold or flu (influenza) virus can be a nuisance. But if you have asthma, even a minor respiratory infection can cause major problems. Asthma signs and symptoms, such as wheezing and chest tightness, may not respond as well to regular asthma medications. Also, asthma symptoms caused by a respiratory infection may last for several days to weeks.

There's no sure way to keep yourself or your child from getting a cold or the flu. But taking steps to avoid getting sick — and taking the right steps when you do — can help.

Preventing colds and the flu

Take these steps to help you avoid getting sick:

  • Get an annual flu shot unless your doctor recommends against it. Most adults and children older than 6 months old should get a flu vaccination every year. If you do get a vaccination, you'll need a shot (injection), since nasal spray vaccinations, such as FluMist, aren't recommended for people with asthma. You or your child may need vaccinations for more than one type of flu virus.
  • Ask your doctor if you need a pneumonia vaccination. Most people need to get this vaccination only one time, but in some cases a booster shot is needed.
  • Avoid contact with anyone who's sick. Germs that cause respiratory infections are easily passed from person to person.
  • Wash your hands often. This kills the germs that can cause respiratory infections. Carry a bottle of hand sanitizer to kill germs while you're on the go.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. These are the points where germs that can make you sick enter your body.
  • Stay in shape. Regular exercise may help you avoid getting sick.
Nov. 22, 2011 See more In-depth