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

A stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, fever, or other signs and symptoms caused by a respiratory infection cold or flu (influenza) virus can be a nuisance for anyone. But if you have asthma, even a mild cold can lead to wheezing and tightness in your chest. Colds and the flu are among the most common causes of asthma flare-ups, especially in young children.

Regular asthma medications may fail to relieve asthma symptoms associated with a cold or the flu. 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 avoid getting sick:

  • Get an annual flu shot unless your doctor recommends against it. Most adults and children older than 6 months of age should get a flu vaccination every year. If you do get a vaccination, you'll need a shot (injection), since nasal spray vaccinations aren't recommended for people with asthma.
  • Ask your doctor if you need a pneumonia vaccination. Having asthma increases your risk of developing pneumonia after getting the flu.
  • 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 enter your body.
Oct. 23, 2014 See more In-depth