Having a cold is never fun, but people who suffer from asthma know a cold can be more than an uncomfortable nuisance—it can worsen asthma symptoms and actually trigger an attack. In fact, experts say that having a cold or other respiratory virus is a prime reason that asthma gets worse in those with the condition.

The problem begins shortly after a person with asthma contracts a cold virus. "Once the virus settles in, the inflammatory process that's responsible for asthma gets going," explains Vincent Tubiolo, MD, an allergy, asthma, and immunology specialist in Santa Barbara, California. The bronchial tubes, now swollen, constricted, and irritated, begin secreting mucus. In most people, this chain of events leads to several uncomfortable days of nose blowing and coughing that eventually subside. But in people with asthma, this inflammatory process can lead to a full-on attack that may result in a trip to the doctor or even emergency room.

Preventing an Asthma Attack During Cold Season

The number one thing you can do to head off a cold-related asthma attack? Keep your asthma under control at all times, especially if yours tends to be severe. "This is one time when the best offense is a good defense," says Andy Nish, MD, an allergist in Gainesville, Ga. "Colds and other viruses are one of the most common causes of worsening asthma in all age groups." Asthma medications, such as inhaled steroids, take weeks or even months to fully kick in, he says, so you need to be vigilant about taking them every day. Having your asthma well under control means you're less likely to have an attack if you do come down with a cold.

If you haven't been on top of taking your medication, do some damage control at the first sign of viral infection. For people with intermittent asthma (asthma that tends to be milder), taking inhaled corticosteroids or nebulizers as soon as you notice symptoms may prevent asthma from worsening. You can also increase your normal daily dose of medication, or opt for an oral version of it in order to tamp down airway inflammation. Other ways to keep your asthma at bay:

  • Get an annual flu shot
  • Avoid cigarette smoke
  • Be vigilant about washing your hands to avoid catching germs
  • Limit exposure to environmental allergens such as dust and mold
  • Get assessed for conditions that may complicate asthma, such as acid reflux and sinusitis

Vincent Tubiolo, MD, and Andy Nish, MD, reviewed this article.



Andy Nish, MD, email interview with expert. http://www.ngpg.org/andy-nish-md-/

Vincent Tubiolo, MD, email interview with expert. http://www.vincenttubiolomd.com/