Uh Oh! You Got the Flu & You Have Asthma... Now What?

Health Professional

Sometimes, I feel like a drug pusher because I encourage people so often on this site to get a flu shot/vaccine OK, I'm kidding, but the fact is, experts worldwide recommend that most people get an annual flu vaccine these days, even if they don't have a chronic illness such as asthma. But for those of us who DO have asthma, it's especially important.

So, every fall (hopefully), millions of us asthma sufferers troop off to our doctors or the local pharmacy or grocery store to get a flu shot. It's not fun, it costs more every single year; but it gives you an excellent shot at avoiding the flu each winter. And that's a good thing, because asthma is already a stress to your airways. You don't need a severe respiratory infection to complicate things.

But what if, like me, you never quite got around to getting your flu shot last fall? Maybe you were too busy or you never had the money or you're just a master procrastinator. Whatever the case might be, if you come into contact with someone who has the flu, you become a sitting duck for getting it too.

That's what happened to me this year. I went to visit my children and grandchild over the holidays and they all got the flu while I was there. I tried hard not to catch it, but it was unavoidable. I was the last one to fall, but like them, I got the flu too. Not good, since I have asthma and severe nasal allergies.

Or, maybe you did get the flu, but like a friend of mine, you caught a strain of the flu that this year's vaccine didn't protect against.

Next thing we knew, we were having all or some of these symptoms:

  • A fever or feeling feverish
  • A cough and/or sore throat
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches and/or body aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue

I had all of these symptoms! Luckily, I knew it was the flu within hours because I'd been living with those symptoms in my loved ones for days.

So, the worst has happened... what do you do now?

Just grit your teeth and hunker down for a week or more until the virus gets out of your system?

Well, in a word... NO! Get yourself to a doctor post haste. If you get diagnosed with the flu within 48 to 72 hours (less than 24 is even better), there's a great chance that you can get on medicine that will almost stop the flu in its tracks, or at least greatly reduce its severity.

In the past few years, a few different antiviral flu medicines have come on the market. Tamiflu is probably one of the most well-known of these. They must be prescribed by a doctor and bought in a pharmacy. So, if you think you may have the flu, even if you're not sure, go to an Urgent Care facility or make an appointment to see your personal physician immediately.

Taking one of these antivirals can greatly reduce the impact of the flu on your respiratory system, once you've had a couple of doses. Luckily, I was able to get on Tamiflu within 36 hours or so of coming down with the flu and I felt better within 2 or 3 days... completely better. It was wonderful.

While taking such medicines can certainly be helpful, it's also important to take care of yourself. Get lots of rest so your body can focus on fighting the virus. Drink fluids every hour, especially if you're feverish and sweating it out. Eat what you can; clear liquids and comfort food are often the easiest to tolerate during the initial day or two.

In addition, take your asthma preventer medicine consistently, as prescribed. Use your rescue inhaler whenever you need to. Your doctor, like mine, may even advise you to take it more often. I was advised to use my rescue inhaler three times a day for the first few days after I was diagnosed with the flu. The important thing is to keep your asthma from spiraling out of control while you fight the flu.

By the way, no matter what you have heard, there is no such thing as "the stomach flu." Influenza is a viral-born illness that affects the respiratory system ONLY, not the digestive system. If you're having nausea and/or vomiting, then you likely have some other kind of sickness, not the flu. It's still important to get it diagnosed and treated, but the action plan will be different.

And next year, please... let's do better with getting our flu shots on time!