Protect Children with Asthma from Colds, Flu

Getting a cold or the flu is a bummer for anyone, but these common illnesses can be extra challenging for children with asthma.

Viruses more often than not will worsen asthma, says Dr. Wan-Yin Chan, a CHOC Children’s allergist/immunologist.

Already, people with asthma have inflamed airways to the lungs. Coughing and sneezing prompted by a cold or the flu adds extra stress on these airways, which can trigger an asthma attack.

“Having a cold or flu can result in inflammation of the lung tissues which leads to increased bronchial hyperreactivity, which can result in asthma symptoms such as wheezing, excessive cough, shortness of breath or chest tightness,” Dr. Chan explains.

While asthmatic children are no more susceptible to catching a cold or flu than other people, they are more likely to suffer complications, such as respiratory infections. In general, allergies may predispose a patient to such infections, and most asthmatics are allergic.

In these cases, the same added stress on the airways that triggers asthma attacks can lead to infections like bronchitis or pneumonia.

Because of their added vulnerability, it’s important that children with asthma work to avoid contracting the flu by getting their annual influenza vaccination, Dr. Chan says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the injection is approved for all people aged 6 months and older. However, children ages 2 to 4 with asthma should avoid the nasal spray vaccine.

In addition to getting vaccinated, asthmatic children during cold and flu season should limit contact with sick people, wash their hands frequently, and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, Dr. Chan advises.

Dr. Chan recommends some of her patients with asthma increase the dose of their daily preventative inhalers for one to two weeks at the first sign of cold or flu. Parents should check with their child’s asthma specialist for dosage instructions, she advises.

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Tips to Manage Winter Allergies

Itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing… can it be allergies? In the winter? Yes.

The sniffles are common during the winter months, and are not always the result of the common cold or flu. Some people who are sensitive to allergy triggers, such as dust mites and mold, can be just as miserable these months as they are in the spring and summer. Check out some common causes of winter allergies and ways to manage them in this Q&A with Dr. Sherwin Gillman, Emeritus Chief, Division of Allergy and Immunology at CHOC Children’s.

Q: What causes winter allergies?
A: In California, because of our temperate climate, we have things in the air year round that patients in areas of the country where there is frost, for example, don’t have to contend with. This includes mold spores, dust mites, pollens, and trees. Also, when the weather is damp and cooler, many families with outdoor pets tend to bring them in more, resulting in symptoms for those people who are allergic to animals, such as dogs and cats.

Q: What are the symptoms of winter allergies?
A: Some of the symptoms include sneezing, itchy nose and eyes, which are often red, and itchy throat and ears. Coughing and wheezing, as well as exertional limitation, especially if the outdoor air is cold and damp, are common in asthma patients. People with atopic dermatitis (eczema) are often allergic to things in the air, and because the indoor air is heated and dry, it makes their skin dryer and itchier. Patients with allergy to mold often feel worse one to two days after it rains, when the mold spores germinate. Allergies often interfere with getting a good night’s sleep, and with school or work performance.

Q: How are these symptoms different than cold symptoms?
A: People with colds usually have more malaise, body aches, headaches, sore throats, often fevers and usually end up with colored (yellow or green) mucous from their nose or lungs. Many times, they’ve had exposure to friends or family members who are ill with similar symptoms. In the first few days, however, it is often difficult to distinguish between colds and allergies, and the two may coexist. Evidence suggests that allergies may predispose individuals to infections, especially sinusitis, if not controlled.

Q: How can I treat my child’s winter allergies?
A: The most important thing parents can do is to find out what their child is allergic to. This can be done by allergy testing with a special blood test (usually done by their child’s pediatrician) or skin tests, which are usually favored by allergists. Once they have that knowledge, the best treatment is avoidance when possible, such as dust control for those who are allergic to mites, and keeping animals outside or in the garage when animals are the problem. Otherwise, there are excellent safe medications that are currently available to control the symptoms. Getting proper rest and a good diet are also helpful. We also recommend flu shots as another way of keeping an allergic child free from complications of influenza.

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