(BPT) - It's that time of year again - cold and flu season. Across the country, Americans are arming themselves by receiving the annual flu vaccine, defending themselves against the telltale sniffles, sneezing, chills and fever. While the flu virus can be unpleasant for anyone who contracts it, for the approximately 25 million Americans living with asthma, the flu can present even more physical challenges.
Asthma symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing and tightness in the chest, are caused by inflammation of the large and small airways in the lungs. The flu, a contagious respiratory illness, can exacerbate the existing inflammation in asthma patients' lungs, putting them at an increased risk of experiencing worsened asthma symptoms and even an increase in frequency or severity of asthma attacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
'For those living with asthma, it's especially important to be extra vigilant at this time of year,' says Dr. Jack Becker, an allergist and immunologist from Main Line Allergy in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. 'While symptoms can be a result of allergies, as the weather gets colder, they're more likely to be caused by viral illness. Make sure to communicate regularly and openly with your doctor about your asthma and taking your daily medication to stay healthy and help keep your symptoms under control during peak flu season.'
As cold and flu season ramps up, preparedness is crucial in asthma management. Dr. Becker recommends creating an Asthma Action Plan with your doctor. 'This tool helps track what kind of medicines you've been prescribed, how to manage asthma long-term and how to handle emergencies or attacks when they arise,' says Dr. Becker. To access and download an Asthma Action Plan, visit GetSmartAboutAsthma.com. This resource also includes expert videos, the latest in asthma news and additional helpful tips for getting through cold and flu season.
Dr. Becker suggests one line of defense to consider ahead of this season is a flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is recommended to everyone ages six months and older, and is widely available at doctors' offices, pharmacies, college health centers and offered through vaccination programs by an increasing number of employers and schools.
Beyond receiving a vaccine, people with asthma can also help protect themselves through simple, everyday habits, such as washing hands regularly, avoiding others who may be ill and taking their daily asthma medication as prescribed. By being smart about this year's cold and flu season, patients with asthma may be able to prevent a worsening of their symptoms and even asthma attacks as a result of the illness.