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A Cold or An Asthma Flare…That is The Question

Asthma Problems #10480853028: When you can’t exactly tell if you’re Real People Sick or not.

On Wednesday, my respite client texted me letting me know the dad was sick, in the event I wanted to reschedule. I super appreciate this about them, because colds + asthma = no fun. However, over Christmas (less than a week ago at the time of writing!), I’d been in cars with people who had colds, and seated next to people who had colds. If I was going to get sick, well, it likely wouldn’t be just from my client’s family.

I got home from work on Thursday and less than two hours later, The Cough beyond the usual cough started. Yep, clearly i didn’t pick anything up at work (plus the almost-9-year-old had me playing Nintendo Switch which was fun). Now it’s two full days later, and I still can’t tell if I’m actually Real People Sick or not. The Cough has gotten much worse—the worst it’s been in a loooong time. My sinuses, though? Totally. Freaking. Fine. (Could that be the Singulair? I guess so, but I feel doubtful). Throat? Also 100% normal. I even slept totally fine, except for once when I woke up, and then had a coughing spasm, and then went back to sleep with no real issues.

What gives? Am I even Real People Sick or not?!

With asthma, my action plan is the same whether I’ve got a cold or if I’m just flaring, so it’s not really a mystery in dire need of solving, but… I am a curious sort and I want to know. I feel like I probably do have a cold, however, I’m just so perplexed by the lack of any other symptoms. Although, I am the person who had bronchitis for a week before going to a doctor to be told I had bronchitis, so I am unsure I can be trusted. (I am 98% certain this time I do not have a fever, however.)

It’s just this darn cough, which had my mom offering me pineapple juice for—I told her it wasn’t going to help me, and while it might work for coughing induced by throat irritation, it wasn’t going to help this straight-from-my-lungs cough that I can’t describe all that well, although she said it’s barky. I drank the pineapple juice, though, because obviously, pineapple juice is delicious. It’s just not going to help me like Ventolin and my other bronchodilators are at this point in time. While my cousin and aunt tried this pineapple juice based concoction for their colds on Christmas Day, I think I’m going to opt out… 😉  After all, that’s not exactly going to get into my lungs, either. Plus, Snopes determined pineapple juice to not actually be 5x more effective than cough syrup. I’m not exactly about the natural remedies, anyways.

Unless, maybe, they are Sweet Chilli Heat Doritos.

So, the verdict is still out. If I’m just “normal” asthma flaring, I’d hope it would lift in another day or two at most. If it’s a cold, I could have another 5 to 7 to 10 days of this nonsense—and my chest muscles are already feeling it, so good luck to me if that’s the case!

Do you have clues for telling if you’re having an asthma flare or have a cold? What works for you managing a cold with your asthma?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Lyndab2u
    6 months ago

    I was already flaring before going to the dentist. I had to have a tooth pulled. With a bite block in my mouth and the water trickling down the back of my throat set me off. It was the first time my dentist ever had that happen. I now keep the inhaler in my lap or on the table. No bite block.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    6 months ago

    Hi Lyndab2u and thanks for your post. It can be a challenge when sitting in the dentist’s chair. Glad to hear you were able to get a better handle on this. We appreciate your input. Leon (site moderator)

  • Lise
    7 months ago

    As I read these comments, I am not sure whats going on. Came down with a bad very wheezy rattly cough within 24hrs. Nose clear though I sound stuffy.
    1rst wk, Dr gave 40mg prednisone, antibiotic, cough syrup. Usually works….
    2nd wk, Dr upped to 60mg prednisone, added a nebulizer
    Going into my 3rd wk, still coughing, head splitting, wheezy all the time. Now what?
    I’ve been in good lung status for a long time.

  • mevans
    9 months ago

    3 years ago I was sick for 2 weeks during a bad inversion.. When I finally went to my Dr he sent me to ER as I had multiple blood clots in my lungs and was close to death.. I couldn’t tell the difference between bad inversion breathing and blood clots..

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    9 months ago

    Hi mevans and thanks for your post. That must have been frightening for you to have gone through that. It is not easy for any lay person to differentiate between an flare up and pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs). It is one of the reasons we urge people to reach out for medical assistance when their symptoms are new, persistent or get worse. It’s important to be your own best advocate. As patients, we are not expected to be diagnosticians. We appreciate your input. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • tincansailordeg2
    9 months ago

    Great topic that is very relevant. I have been on a constant cycle of terrible cough, congestion followed by antibiotics and prednisone taper followed by a month of feeling pretty good only to cycle through it again. Goes on year round. Finally get rid of my “Johnie Most” voice (maybe you have to be an older Boston person to get the reference) only to have the cycle start again. Nucala and three inhalers don’t seem to prevent it. Try to be accepting realizing that people are dealing with much worse things.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    9 months ago

    Hi tincansailordeg2 and thanks for your post. Are you being followed by a physician. We understand how frustrating it can be cycling through this pattern you’ve described. Are you being followed by a physician? What does the doctor say about your condition? Please let us hear back from you. Leon (site moderator)

  • TerriOKC
    9 months ago

    This! I have two boys, age 7 and 10 and they are like adorable little Petri dishes bringing colds home from school. They may feel crummy for a day or three, then they bounce right back immediately. Then about 5-7 days later, I notice my throat feels scratchy at bedtime. Wake up with the razor blades sore throat and stuffy nose, dry cough. Then, as if it were written on the microbiological calendar, three days after the sore throat starts, my asthma flares up and I’m using nebulizers every 4 hours and calling my doc for a Prednisone burst. It takes a minimum of two weeks to get back under control and usually it takes 3 to 4 weeks to really feel back to normal. And this happens usually 3 or 4 times in the fall and winter months, then once in the spring and summer months. So every time I go for a pulmonologist follow up appointment, they do the “Asthma Control Test” based on the previous 4 weeks symptoms and I flunk because I’ve recently had a cold! So frustrating!

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    9 months ago

    You’re story is so relatable, TerriOKC! You’ve exactly described the frustrating chain of events that happens when we have school age children. It can seem like no matter how hard we try and how germaphopic we become, it still gets us. I hope you can get through this time of year and the school year without too much trouble.

    Lyn (site moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    9 months ago

    We hear you, TerriOKC and appreciate your sharing your experiences with the community. I got a real chuckle about your ‘petri dish’ sons!! Glad to hear that Kerri’s article resonated so clearly with you – so many of our community members experience similar situations when they develop colds and it triggers their asthma symptoms. I’m sorry you’re going through this. Warm regards for the New Year! Leon (site moderator)

  • kassysteiger
    2 years ago

    I can totally relate! On Sunday I started having this nasty cough.. couldn’t decide if it was a flare up or a cold.. I had an appt with my doctor for a physical on Wednesday (yesterday) and thought I’ll tough it out till then.. I had no stuffy nose no other symptoms until Tuesday. I got a fever headache and a bunch of other symptoms and thought bronchitis seeing the cough got much worse. Went to the doctors yesterday and found out I have the flu. It was so tough deciding if it was a flare up or being really sick! Just go with you’re gut!

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