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The Common Cold and Asthma
Along with colorful leaves and cooler air, autumn is also associated with catching the common cold. Colds are common and typically not a serious threat to most people; however, a cold can cause serious complications for asthmatic kids and adults.
What is the Common Cold
According to the CDC, there are millions of colds diagnosed each year in the U.S., with adults averaging 2-3 colds per year, while kids have more colds. The common cold is a viral infection that attacks the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat, sinuses, ears), and is caused by any of 200 viruses, with most infections resulting from the rhinovirus family.
The most common cold symptoms include:
• Sore, itchy throat
• Clear, watery discharge from the nose (which may become colored over time—this is normal)
• Feeling tired
• Body aches
Adults typically don’t run a fever with a cold, but children may run a low-grade fever with a viral upper respiratory infection. Most people recover from colds in about 7-10 days; however, anyone (adults and kids) who have a weakened immune system and/or respiratory conditions, including asthma, may develop serious complications from a cold. Colds can also cause asthma to worsen.
Complications from a Cold
Colds can develop into more serious infections and may even become bacterial over time. A worsening cold can lead to sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia (bacterial or viral), etc. Colds may also cause asthma flares and attacks in those who have asthma.
Signs Your Infection May Be Bacterial
The following signs may indicate a cold has become a bacterial infection:
• Cold symptoms worsen or remain the same after 10 days
• Fever over 100 F (38 C)
• Worsening exhaustion
• Sore Throat
• Sinus pain and pressure
• Coughing up yellow or green mucus
• Nasal mucus that’s green or yellow, which becomes thicker over time
• Pain behind your eyes and/or in your cheekbones
In addition, you may notice signs that you’re asthma’s worsening:
• Falling peak flow
• You find it increasingly difficult to breathe
• Coughing uncontrollably
• Your rescue inhaler may not be as effective as normal
You’re Sick with a Cold, Now What?
There’s currently no cure for the common cold, though vaccines against the flu and pneumonia are available. Antibiotics are useless against viral infections. What can you do when you get a cold that causes your asthma to flare?
1). Follow your asthma action plan. If your action plan doesn’t include instructions on what to do if you have a respiratory illness, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your action plan. Your doctor will be the best authority on what will work specifically for you and your type of asthma if you come down with a cold or other respiratory illness.
2). Monitor your peak flow at least 3 times a day, recording your results to share with your doctor, if needed.
3). Use your rescue inhaler as directed by your doctor.
4). Take pain relief medicine for fever and body aches (such as acetaminophen), if directed to do so by your doctor. Avoid using aspirin for yourself or your children. Aspirin and other NSAIDS can cause allergic reactions, asthma flares and attacks in some people. In addition, it’s not advisable to give aspirin (and other NSAIDS) to babies, children or teens under the age of 16, unless otherwise directed by your doctor. Kids may have an allergic reaction to aspirin, but may also develop Reye’s syndrome. Reye’s syndrome can cause both brain and liver at any age, but especially in children.
5). Rest and Fluids: rest and take fluids as much as possible when you’re sick. Rest helps your body fight the virus, while fluids keep your body hydrated.
6). Call your doctor or head to a hospital emergency room if asthma worsens. Don’t waste time—asthma can quickly deteriorate into a life-threatening attack.
7). If your cold isn’t better or has worsened after 10 days, call your doctor. You may have developed a bacterial that requires antibiotics. In addition, don’t hesitate to call your doctor if cold and/or asthma symptoms suddenly worsen at any time during a cold.
8). Take all medications as prescribed by your doctor. Also be sure to check with your doctor before using any OTC medications. Some medications may make your asthma worse, or may interact with your asthma and allergy medicines. Your doctor or pharmacist is the best guide as to what medicines can safely ease your cold symptoms.
Protect Your and Your Family from the Common Cold
You can protect you and your family from the common cold by practicing good hygiene (wash hands often, cover mouth and nose when sneezing), avoiding anyone who’s sick, get plenty of rest, avoiding stress as much as possible and eating a healthy diet.
The common cold is usually harmless, but can cause serious complications for asthmatics. Follow good prevention methods to avoid catching a cold. If you do catch a cold, be sure to follow your asthma action plan and let your doctor help find the best cold medicines for your circumstances. Don’t hesitate to contact your doctor with any concerns you may have about your or your kids’ asthma. Get help as soon as possible in order to keep asthma from developing into a life-threatening medical emergency.
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Content copyright © 2015 by Sherry Vacik. All rights reserved.
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