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The Official Publication of AAN - MA

Avoiding Asthma Problems During the Flu Season

We are entering a time when you may start having problems with your asthma due to the cold and flu season.  Some people experience asthma exacerbations, or flare-ups, as a result of a respiratory viral infection. With children back in school and many of us sequestered indoors during the winter months due to adverse weather conditions, viruses will likely flourish and be the cause of many asthmatic problems. This article originally appeared in a recent issue of AARC Times, the American Association for Respiratory Care’s monthly magazine.


Viral infections and asthma
Cold and flu season is upon us, and one of the frequent causes of asthma exacerbations is rhinovirus. This particular virus can be found in the lower airways of asthmatics of all ages. In children and adults who have asthma, an infection—even with a common cold virus—can bring about an asthma flare-up. This interaction can result in impaired immune responses during the viral infection that could be a risk factor for more severe viral illnesses for the person with asthma.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has already been identified as a precursor to wheezing and asthma in childhood. In infants, RSV, as well as parainfluenza, often result in bronchiolitis and croup; but as they grow into childhood and adulthood, children get infections that are generally brought on by common cold viruses. The role of infections and its association with asthma is still in the process of being understood.

Children under the age of five will commonly display asthma symptoms as a result of a viral infection. There are two general patterns that declare themselves that can help your respiratory therapist or doctor better identify and manage the symptoms of the infant or child who has wheezing and an acute viral upper respiratory infection. One is that of the patient who has a remission of symptoms in their pre-school years, and the other is someone who persistently has asthma symptoms throughout childhood. Diagnosis is all the more difficult when this patient is less than three years of age. The patient who consistently requires symptomatic treatment (more than twice a week) most likely needs to be given anti-inflammatory medications. If a clear benefit is not obvious, the treatment should be stopped.

Prevention, prevention, prevention
Of course, the best thing is to avoid ever catching the flu; with that in mind, what can you do to prevent flu and asthma flare-ups this fall? First and foremost, it is vitally important to get an annual flu shot. Also, minimize contact with anyone who has an upper viral illness. Wash your hands often, especially when you come in contact with others who have a virus.

Hand washing is especially important and an even more daunting task for younger asthmatic children, so teach them at an early age why this is so important.

Practicing these simple things will help you better manage your asthma during this time of the year so you can stay out of the hospital. Your health care provider is a good resource person, so be sure to ask your doctor or respiratory therapist about the best ways to keep yourself in the “safe” zone during flu and cold season •

About the Author
Tom Kallstrom, MS, RRT, AE-C, FAARC, a respiratory therapist, is associate executive director/chief operating officer of the American Association for Respiratory Care. For many years he has served as a member of the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Coordinating Committee.

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