Learn more about complications of the flu and asthma

Asthma and the Flu: Complications, Treatment, and More

The flu is a common but serious respiratory virus that can lead to severe — and even deadly — health complications.

Everyone should take basic precautions against the flu. But for someone with asthma, flu prevention and treatment is critical.

Asthma sufferers are not more likely to catch the flu, but they are at greater risk of health complications from the virus.

“Prevention is the best way to keep yourself safe during flu season,” says Rebecca Simcik, DO, Greater Pittsburgh Medical Associates-UPMC.

“Always get your flu shot and continue your regular asthma medicines as prescribed by your doctor,” she says. “Call your doctor if you are using your rescue inhaler more often as this can be a sign of an asthma flare-up.”

Find a UPMC Primary Care Specialist near you. 

How Do I Know If I Have the Flu?

The flu affects everyone differently. While symptoms of the flu often mimic the common cold and some allergy conditions, consult with your doctor to find out whether you have the flu.

Symptoms of the flu include:

  • Cough and/or sore throat
  • Extreme tiredness
  • High fever and/or chills
  • Runny and/or stuffy nose
  • Body and muscle aches/headaches
  • Dizziness and/or difficulty breathing

If you are having trouble breathing, call 911 immediately.

How Does the Flu Affect Those with Asthma?

Even if your asthma symptoms are well controlled with medication, your airways are more sensitive, so the flu is likely to make inflammation in the airways much worse. The flu virus can trigger severe asthma attacks that may require hospitalization. People with asthma also are more likely to suffer from complications from the flu, including pneumonia.

Asthma is a disease of the lungs caused by inflammation in your airways. If you have asthma, you may experience an asthma attack as a result of allergens, chemical or air irritants, airway infections, and other factors. Symptoms of an asthma attack include:

  • Wheezing
  • Breathlessness
  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing

How Can I Avoid Getting the Flu?

If you have asthma, it is important to take steps to avoid getting the flu and any related health complications. Here’s how you can minimize your risk.

  • Get the flu vaccine. Because the flu virus changes each year, so does the vaccine.  Be sure you stay up-to-date on your flu shot. The flu shot will not worsen your asthma symptoms.
  • Practice good hygiene. To help protect yourself from the virus wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water. In between hand washings, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay away from people with the virus. Disinfect any objects and surfaces that a sick person has come in contact with.

If you have asthma and come down with the flu, call your doctor immediately. Treatment with antiviral medicines may keep your symptoms from worsening and prevent more serious complications.