Colds, flu and asthma

Find out what you can do to protect yourself against colds and flu triggering your asthma.

Do colds and flu trigger asthma?

Colds and flu are common asthma triggers. In a recent Asthma + Lung UK survey, around 3 in 4 people told us that colds and the flu have made their lung condition symptoms worse.

If your asthma is triggered by colds or flu, you might get symptoms like:

  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • chest tightness. 

How can I lower my risk?

Colds and flu spread from person to person easily. Our practical advice could help you avoid catching and spreading colds and flu. 

Get your flu vaccine

Getting your flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others around you from the flu. If you use a steroid inhaler or take steroid tablets for your asthma, you can get a free flu vaccine.

Flu vaccines help protect against the main types of flu viruses around each year. Even if you get your flu vaccine, there’s still a chance you might get the flu. But if you catch the flu after getting vaccinated, it may not be as bad or last as long. 

Find out more about getting your flu vaccine if you have a lung condition

Practise good hygiene 

When you cough or sneeze, try to cover your mouth and nose with tissue and throw it in the bin straight away. This helps to reduce the spread of germs. You could cover your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow if you do not have a tissue. 

Washing your hands regularly removes germs, meaning you’re less likely to catch infections. Using soap and warm water is the best way to clean your hands. You could use hand sanitiser if this is not possible.

It’s a good idea to wash your hands regularly, but it’s especially important: 

  • after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose
  • before you eat, drink or prepare food
  • after touching surfaces that a lot of other people have touched, like handrails and bathroom surfaces
  • every time you get home. 

Cleaning surfaces and belongings in your home can help to reduce your risk of catching and spreading infections too. This is because viruses and germs can live on surfaces and belongings. It’s a good idea to clean surfaces you use a lot, like handles, light switches, kitchen worktops, and remote controls. 

Stay well in winter 

Colds and flu are types of respiratory infections. Respiratory infections can spread at any time of year, but they’re more common in the winter. There are lots of practical things you can do to protect your lungs in winter.

Live well 

Living a healthy lifestyle can boost your immune system and help you stay well. This includes eating a balanced diet, keeping active and not smoking.  We have a lot of advice to help you live well with a lung condition

Wear a face mask 

When worn correctly, face masks can reduce the spread of colds and flu. You might want to wear a face mask when:

  • you’re meeting someone who is at high risk from colds, flu and other respiratory infections like COVID-19
  • cold and flu virus rates are high, such as in winter
  • you're in shops, on public transport, or in other indoor or crowded places.

Most people with asthma can manage to wear a face mask for a short time. When worn properly, a face mask does not reduce a person’s oxygen supply or cause a build-up of carbon dioxide.

You could also wear a Distance Aware badge to help others understand that you would still prefer to social distance.

Treating colds and flu

Manage your asthma

Managing your asthma well could help prevent asthma attacks caused by colds and flu. This means: 

  • Using an asthma action plan, so that you know what to do if you get asthma symptoms.
  • If you have a preventer inhaler or a MART inhaler, using it every day as prescribed, even if you feel well.  
  • Always carrying your reliever inhaler with you, so you can deal with asthma symptoms quickly.
  • Using good inhaler technique.  Our short inhaler technique videos will help you check that you’re using your inhaler properly. 
  • Going for an annual asthma review

What you can do at home   

You can treat colds and flu at home by:

  • staying warm
  • resting and sleeping
  • drinking a lot of water to stay hydrated
  • taking paracetamol to lower your temperature and treat aches and pains.

If you do not feel well enough to carry out everyday activities, try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people until you feel better.

How a pharmacist can help

You can buy cough, cold and flu medicines from pharmacies and supermarkets without a prescription. Pharmacists can also give you advice about treating colds and flu and help you decide the best medicines to use.

What painkillers can I take if I have asthma?

If you have asthma, speak to your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist before taking painkillers like ibuprofen, aspirin, or other anti-inflammatory painkillers. These medicines could trigger your asthma symptoms. Your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist can suggest different painkillers instead, like paracetamol. 

See a GP or contact 111 if

  • your symptoms get suddenly worse
  • your temperature is very high or you feel hot and shivery
  • you're concerned about your child's symptoms
  • you're feeling short of breath or get chest pain
  • you have another long-term condition, like diabetes
  • you have a weakened immune system.

Get support

Call our Helpline for support with your condition. Get advice on your medicines, symptoms or travelling with a lung condition, or just call us to say hello.

Did you find this information useful?

We use your comments to improve our information. We cannot reply to comments left on this form. If you have health concerns or need clinical advice, call our helpline on 0300 222 5800 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

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