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What does a cold feel like when you have asthma

avernamethyst112 profile image

Hi there,

New to asthma (just had it for 4 months thanks to Covid, and it's currently not super well controlled), and now that we're entering cold and flu season, just wanted to see what your experiences have been like with getting a cold while you have asthma? The forum posts are of people going to the hospital from it, but I'm assuming most people are only posting when it's really bad. What's it like for the average person with asthma?

Thank you!!

13 Replies

That's kind of an impossible question to answer because everyone, non asthmatics included, experiences colds differently and every asthmatic experiences asthma differently. So therefore every asthmatic will be experiencing their cold AND their asthma differently.

Not all asthmatics are triggered by colds or other viruses for a start. Even if they are, most don't need to go to hospital because of it. You're more likely to read about that because people don't talk about the reverse - ie I had a cold and was fine - bit like one often only sees and reviews of things.

With asthma you need to know what to do if you are symptomatic/your peak flow has dropped if you don't have a plan for this, you need to ask your nurse or GP what you should do and when but also this post might help:

healthunlocked.com/asthmauk... )

It's more difficult when you are new to asthma of course but particularly so if it's a post covid diagnosis as not all post covid breathing issues are asthma. Some will be of course but many are not and where a guess is made based on breathing symptoms, a wrong path can be very unhelpful as no amount of asthma meds will help if it's not asthma. So people can be given more and more meds because their "asthma isn't controlled", often in quick succession too without proper embedding periods for the meds, and the meds won't help anyway. This can be part of an "is it asthma" diagnosis, trial meds and see (just frustrating when it continues without anyone considering other causes!) but is extra difficult when someone is at that stage and also unwell - eg is it that my meds are not right/wouldn't be working yet anyway/I need to seek advice because my cold is causing problems that need dealing with.

But anyway, all you need to do is take what you've been prescribed as it's prescribed and monitor peak flow regularly. If you get a cold or something and feel worse than normal (if you do and you may not), contact your GP with symptoms and monitoring info and they will tell you what to do, if anything.

Gareth57 profile image
Gareth57 in reply to twinkly29

Re diagnosis, I find it odd that there seem to be many GP's giving out asthma medication without even doing something as simple as a reversibility test, I know several people who have been given inhalers because of a cough or tight chest who are not asthmatic.

twinkly29 profile image
twinkly29 in reply to Gareth57

Part of asthma diagnosis is (or should be!) response to meds in terms of symptoms and peak flow. So actually giving a blue inhaler (and the next step being a brown steroid one, or it used to be) and monitoring the effect over time is testing response to meds - the initial blue inhaler test is basically reversibility testing.

Not all GPs have access to spirometry testing and of course even at hospital lung function testing they don't always do reversibility tests which I agree they absolutely should. But (to me) testing over time with inhalers gives a much broader picture initially - but it is does need some education for patients and good monitoring, so regular peak flow measuring and recording (before and after blue inhaler used), along with symptoms, so the results over a couple of weeks can be looked at.

I think though often the inhalers are given because shortness of breath or cough or tightness clearly always means asthma (!) and then either it's just left at that without further checks or it doesn't help so it's all escalated. An approach which doesn't really help when it is asthma either as monitoring is needed for that to get people controlled and on the right meds.

I am sorry that you have had to join us asthmatics. To answer your question, I have found that most colds, and indeed flu, have had no effect whatsoever on my asthma. However I have occasionally had a cold that has gone to my chest and made me a bit wheezy. The really bad asthma attacks I have had have never been caused by a cold. Not everyone finds this and a few have a very different story but you are young and, I assume your immune system is healthy, so you should be able to fight off colds, etc. with little difficulty.

With regard to the problem you have with getting your asthma under control, have you tried the long covid breathing exercises? My asthma had been under control for a number of years until I caught a virus last year. I tested negative for covid but had all the symptoms and was left with severe breathing difficulties. I was greatly helped by theses exercises and can recommend them.

Thank you! I have tried the long covid breathing exercises, but stopped them once I got put on the meds as those seemed to be helping. I suppose it’s time to start them again

Usually when I get a cold it lasts much longer than 48 hours. It normally starts as a cold, soon becomes a stuffed nose with green mucus, sore throat and upper respiratory infection, at which time I need antibiotics and steroids.I use preventative inhalers twice a day, and since Covid vaccinations I've been free of the common cold.

I have only had one episode of asthma not connected with infection. It was caused by taking beta blockers for a heart condition. I no longer take beta blockers.

Lysistrata profile image
LysistrataCommunity Ambassador

Twinkly has covered a lot and I agree with her! Just wanted to add a couple of points from my experience (and generally):

- As you probably know, a cold can be caused by hundreds of different viruses, across different viral families. The end result symptom-wise may be similar but the underlying virus does seem to make a difference in terms of asthma. Infections are fairly major triggers for me but I've had colds which have gone to my chest and just been a bit crap like a normal person, colds which have gone to my chest and stirred up my asthma, and some which have triggered a full on attack at the end of the cold. Other people can find asthma comes first, then the cold. I believe there was a study showing that **some** people with asthma have a genetic susceptibility to be worse affected by picornavirus infections, which can cause colds - but many other viruses will be causing colds without this effect.

- Same goes for non-cold viruses (for example, we now know more about COVID and while it's good for everyone to avoid it if they can because it can cause trouble for even healthy people, the latest data show that it doesn't seem to be the high risk for asthmatics that was a concern at the start of the pandemic). I've also had one bout of flu which didn't do much to my mild asthma (aged 14, there was an epidemic in the UK of H3N2 flu). Aged 23, I got swine flu (H1N1) and that really did affect my lungs and make my asthma non-mild. To anyone reading, please get a flu jab, you never know what flu might do.

- I think a lot of people (not necessarily you but just adding generally) mix up the chances of catching colds/flu with the end result. I have a pretty good immune system and I'm not more likely to catch flu or colds than a non-asthmatic. I may be more affected by them, and I find they tend to last longer for me than most people without asthma, but not everyone will be affected this way, nor is every cold/flu I catch going to be awful, as mentioned above. (Having said this, anyone reading, please still get a flu jab).

I got my asthma after a viral infection, too, 15 years ago. It might have been covid-1.0, in hindsight (doctors definitely said "viral pneumonia").

I find that cold makes my airways more twitchy than normal -- i.e. they respond to smaller concentrations of irritants and milder emotions. Staying in clean air with no odorous and particule irritants (and no emotional ones), and taking plenty of fluids -- all help get over the cold in 2-3 days. Before I figured out how to get clean air on demand, it was non-stop coughing for days due to the cold. Now, it's just fever. Never had to go to a hospital specifically due to a cold since I figured this out.

Interestingly, due to the mask-wearing (covid), respirator wearing (asthma) for the last 2 years, did not get a single cold.

I agree with others that symptoms are varied for each individual. However, I completely understand your question as to what do you do if you get a cold and will you end up in hospital? Most likely not, but its a very smart question with cold season here. So I will tell you what happens to me , which could be different to others. With asthma, colds are inclined to head straight for my chest...the phrase 'head cold' is gone from my vocabulary as it always heads south!! For me this causes coughing and tight chest and it can be exhausting. It can keep me awake at night. I sometimes become crackly or wheezy but not always. However my airways become tighter so it is hard to draw a full breathe...like as though you can only get 2/3 of a breathe in. Usually my peak flow goes down.

I always keep a close eye on symptoms...before I used never take my ventolin enough when I had a cold...I really don't know why, but I have learned to use it when required now and not be stupid. I always take my preventer, for me it's Relvar. I have a humidifier during the winter in my bedroom as I find dry air really affects my airways. A warm steamy shower or bath for me loosens tight mucus and eases my breathing but may affect others differently.

I get the flu jab every year and like others, had no common colds over past 20 months because of face masks. I think I will continue to wear face masks at work every Winter.

If I have a cold and I feel my chest is getting tight and ventolin is not helping much, its time for a medical review for possibly oral steroids or other treatment. I do have a home nebulizer but rarely require it.

Like others, I find my airways at the time of a cold become more reactive to smokey environment or heavy perfumes even mint flavour or strong spices or very cold drinks. What helps for me is warm drinks and plenty of them to soothe the airways and loosen claggy mucus so it can be cleared. So, light soups, warm honey and lemon or herbal drinks with muelin or marshmallow root in them can help me. Thyme helps reduce irritating cough so I pop a generous sprig into the honey and lemon to steep before I drink it. Strong coffee can ease chest tightness for me also but obviously I don't replace ventolin with it and don't drink it at night time as I do want to sleep! :)

I take zinc, vit c and echinacea around the time of a cold and I use Neilmed nasal saline washes to clear sinuses twice a day.

Overall, colds do not end with me in hospital...I have been fortunate enough to manage at home, sometimes with additional treatments from gp and be well enough to stay out of hospital. You are reading as Twinkley says the problematic cases here where some of us are having more complex issues for a time and appreciate the additional support of the forum.

Best of luck with recovering from the affects of Covid and don't be afraid to ask more questions if you need to with the caveat that we are all different and one person's cure is another person's horror and vice versa.

Hiya, everyone is different depending on the severity of your asthma, whether it is well controlled and what the triggers are. For me personally, my asthma can be worse with a cold as I feel I have a heavy chest and as I do exercise most days, this can shift the cold and cause me to cough. I may also need to use my blue inhaler a bit more but once the cold is gone, I am back to normal☺️ X

Hi. I am in the same situation as you. Had covid last year in the first wave and as a result lost 20% of my lung capacity. Had chest problems ever since. Recently been diagnosed with chronic asthma. Have been put on numerous strong medications including inhalers and other permanent medications as my asthma is not controlled. I am dreading the cold and flu season as I am prone to chest infections. I have had my flu jab but am still very nervous. I dont go anywhere without my inhalers.

I think it depends on your ‘asthma type.’

I think I have cough variant asthma. Every single cold goes to my chest and I cough and cough and cough. My peak flow never goes dangerously low but chronically low enough to make life exhausting (best is about 420-440, when diagnosed it was permanently hovering around 370 give or take a few 10s.)

Just before diagnosis I did have a couple of more classic exacerbations where I wheezed. My current virus (the one that’s dragging on in everyone has also made me feel the bear hug a couple of times.

My irritants are smoke, chemicals, cold air/ damp air, pollution and viruses, when my inflammation is high. When I have a cold, using my voice really irritates and the Inflammation builds (annoying as I’m a teacher, have wondered if I have vcd too.) Animals, pollen and dust don’t affect me.

Swimming and playing a wind instrument definitely used to help improve my peak flow before I was diagnosed. When I had my first son, late 30s I think a combo of pregnancy and lowering oestrogen made a mild undiagnosed asthma worse, on top of a series of chest infections.

Just before diagnosis every cold ended up leading to the start of pneumonia and antibiotics. The inhalers lesson the inflammation and I now have a long acting bronchial dilator which is fab.

Never needed hospital I need to add. It’s low level and chronic rather than acute. For 3 months in the summer I can almost come off the inhalers! September; bam back to hacking coughs unless I’m using daily inhalers.

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