Colds, flu and asthma

Protect yourself from an asthma attack triggered by cold or flu viruses

How can colds and flu trigger asthma attacks?

Colds and flu are the top trigger for people with asthma, with 75% of people with asthma saying their symptoms get worse when they have a cold or the flu. Having a cold or the flu alongside asthma also puts you at risk of an asthma attack that could be life-threatening.

When you have a cold or the flu, your airways become more inflamed and you produce more mucus. This means there’s less room for the air to get through which can make it harder to breathe. This can then trigger your asthma symptoms.

Find out more about the symptoms of COVID-19

How can I reduce my risk of catching a cold or the flu if I have asthma?

  1. Wash your hands frequently to reduce the risk of catching a cold or the flu.
  2. Take care to avoid sharing towels, cups or other household items with someone who may have a cold.
  3. Try not to touch your eyes or nose.
  4. Look after yourself: get plenty of sleep and try to reduce your stress levels.
  5. Get the flu vaccine. If you have a preventer inhaler, or you have been admitted to hospital because of your asthma, you can get the flu jab on the NHS. Find out more about getting the flu vaccine if you have asthma.

The NHS website has more advice on:

How can I reduce my risk of an asthma attack if I have a cold or the flu?

1. If you’ve got a preventer inhaler, take it every day, as prescribed. This helps to control inflammation in your lungs, which reduces the risk of having an asthma attack. Learn how to improve your inhaler technique through our short videos.

2. Carry your reliever inhaler with you - it’s usually blue. See your GP, pharmacist or asthma nurse if you:

  • need to take your reliever inhaler three or more times a week
  • have asthma symptoms three or more times a week
  • wake up one night a week because of your asthma symptoms.

3. Keep your medicines close, so you can reach them if you're ill in bed - you still need to take your preventer inhaler as prescribed.

4. Don't ignore your symptoms, especially if you feel breathless or wheezy - you might think it's 'just a cold', but remember it could trigger a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

5. Rest at home. Take paracetamol for aches and pains and drink lots of water to avoid getting dehydrated. Flu especially can really wipe you out, so don’t try to do too much too soon.

6. Book an asthma review with your doctor or asthma nurse. Ask them to update your asthma action plan, as this can help you stay well.

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. 

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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.

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