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Help asthma patients stay healthy during the influenza season

Dr. Heidi Stensmyren

- 04/12/2018
Chairperson of the Medical Ethics Committee

Influenza can be dangerous for patients with asthma, however mild. Their airways become more inflamed than they typically are and they produce more mucus, making it harder to breathe. This can set off asthma symptoms and put them at risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack (1).

That’s why it’s vitally important they take extra care of themselves during the influenza season. There are a few simple steps you can advise patients with asthma to take to protect themselves:

  1. Recommend influenza immunization early in the autumn, so they’re protected before the ‘peak flu’ season (1). Influenza vaccines are updated each season to keep up with changing viruses and immunity wanes over the year, so vaccination is needed each year (2).
  2. Arrange an asthma review with their doctor or asthma nurse and update their Asthma Action Plan (1). If your asthma patient is a child, advise their parent or guardian to make sure the up-to-date Asthma Action Plan is on file at school or the daycare center, and the plan and medication(s) are easy to get to if needed (2).
  3. Take their asthma medication exactly as you have told them to. Make sure they know how to use their asthma inhaler if you have told them to use one (1).
  4. Know and avoid their asthma triggers that can cause them to have an asthma attack (1).
  5. Wash their hands frequently to reduce the risk of catching a cold or flu. Take care to avoid sharing towels, cups or other household items with someone who may have influenza (1).
  6. Look after themselves: get plenty of sleep and try to eat a healthy, balanced diet (1).

There are also a few additional steps you can suggest to manage their asthma well during the cold weather and avoid triggering asthma symptoms:

  1. If sudden changes in temperature trigger their symptoms, try wrapping a scarf loosely over their nose and mouth before going from the warm into the cold. This will help to warm the air up before they breathe it in (3).
  2. Try breathing in through their nose instead of their mouth, to warm the air as they breathe it in (3).
  3. Exercise is good for asthma, but if it’s really cold, they might be best sticking to indoor activities such as yoga, running on a treadmill or a workout.

Your role is to help people stay healthy. Keep asthmatic patients safe. Recommend influenza immunisation; it prevents influenza infection, and the severe asthma attacks the virus can trigger.