Ask The Advocates: What Is The Best Way To Help A Cold Or Sinus Infection With Asthma?

Living with asthma has some daily challenges, not to mention that having a cold or sinus infection can make living with asthma even more difficult. We asked our advocate team of respiratory therapists and asthma educators to answer the question: What is the best way to help a cold or sinus infection when living with asthma? See their answers below.

Response from Lorene Alba, AE-C:

If you have asthma, your immune system is compromised, so see your health care provider at the first sign of infection. The quicker you can get a diagnosis and any needed medication the quicker you will feel better. Take your medications as prescribed, drink plenty of fluids and rest. Using a neti-pot or saline spray can help to clear sinuses. If it doesn’t bother your asthma, put your face over a steaming pot of water and breathe in the steam. I’m a fan of ginger tea (fresh ginger steeped in hot water) with honey and lemon.

Response from Theresa Cannizzarro, Respiratory Therapist:

Colds/sinus infections are one of the most common causes of an asthma flare up, especially in children. The best way to help a cold/sinus infection is to avoid getting one. I know, that is often times easier said than done. Getting your yearly flu shot, as well as avoiding people who are sick are your best defense. If you still end up sick (which happens to all of us no matter what) staying on top of your asthma medications is of utmost priority. I would recommend talking with your doctor and have a solid asthma action plan in place. This way, you will know of any additional medications and steps to take when you aren't feeling well. Keeping that open dialogue with your doctor is very important as well.

Response from John Bottrell, RRT:

Most colds are caused by respiratory viruses, and they can trigger asthma episodes even in asthmatics considered to have controlled asthma. In fact, most research seems to show that respiratory viruses are the most common asthma trigger and the most common cause of asthma symptoms. So, this makes it imperative that you work with your asthma doctor, and take any asthma controller medicines prescribed every day even when you are feeling good -- especially when you are feeling good. This makes it so that when colds cause asthma symptoms, they are less severe and more easily controlled. It's also important to monitor your symptoms and/ or use a peak flow meter every day, and have an asthma action plan that helps you decide what to do whey colds do trigger asthma symptoms.

Many asthmatics constantly have to deal with sinus infections (sinusitis). They are caused by bacteria, although they can also be caused by some of the same cells that are responsible for asthma, such as eosinophils. Sinus drainage from the sinus infection can also trigger asthma symptoms. So, you will have to work with your asthma doctor -- or asthma specialist (such as an ear-nose-throat doctor) -- to control both conditions. As noted above, asthma can be controlled by seeing your doctor regularly, taking any prescribed asthma controller medicines every day, and by working with your doctor to create an asthma management plan. Like asthma, there are a lot of treatment options for sinusitis (such as antibiotics and nasal sprays), and it's up to you to work with your doctor to find out which one(s) work best for you.

Response from Lyn Harper, MPA, BSRT, RRT:

You’ve heard it said that prevention is the best medicine. That couldn’t be more true than with a person who has asthma. So, if you can avoid getting sick altogether that would best, but probably not realistic. You can take precautions though. Avoid crowded places during cold and flu season. Get your flu shot and wash your hands regularly.
When you get sick:

  1. Follow your asthma action plan.
  2. Use your peak flow meter often. If you use it even when you’re feeling well, this gives you the earliest clue to when you’re not feeling well. You may notice a decrease in you peak flows even before you feel symptoms of getting sick.
  3. Get plenty of rest. It seems obvious, but it’s very important to “listen” to your body when it tells you it’s had enough. A little extra sleep when fighting a virus can be a huge help.
  4. Drink enough fluids.
  5. Use a saline nasal spray to keep your nares clean and hydrated.
  6. If you doctor recommends it, use an over the counter decongestant as needed.

Response from Leon Lebowitz, RRT

For those who've been diagnosed and are living with asthma, it's always a challenge to maintain control over their breathing. Maintenance medications, rescue medications, an asthma friendly home environment, and the avoidance of known triggers, all play a role in keeping your breathing pattern calm and normal. Everyone who lives with asthma should have a detailed and current asthma-action-plan. Ideally, this is a written document that specifies a detailed plan for controlling your asthma. Key parts of this plan should include:

  • Specific and individualized information about your daily asthma medicines,
  • Detailed information about your asthma triggers,
  • Instructions about how to treat your symptoms if they deteriorate or worsen,
  • Individualized instructions about how to deal with and treat your exacerbations,
  • and -

  • Detailed instructions about when to call your physician and, when to go to the emergency room.

You should also keep information for your emergency contacts, healthcare providers, and the
nearest hospitals and/or urgent care centers in your plan.
One key aspect of controlling your asthma is to practice prevention by the avoidance of getting sick. One of the most common triggers of asthma symptoms is a viral respiratory infection, also known as the common cold. Cold symptoms are familiar to most people and include fever, cough, runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat, headache and muscle aches. For asthmatics who contract colds, the cold seems to last longer and the symptoms seem to be worse (than for the regular population. This may be related to the cold actually exacerbating the asthma. The best
way(s) to help a cold or sinus infection when living with asthma is to proactively practice prevention. In order to do this you can:

  • Be diligent about washing your hands throughout the day.
  • Try to avoid touching your nose and eyes. These are the most common routes for germs to get into your body. If your hands are contaminated, hand washing will help to prevent spreading infection directly to those susceptible routes. Remember, washing your hands frequently is the key.
  • Get plenty of rest. When sick, sleep is needed even more than when you are not sick.
    Sufficient rest will help your body to fight off the infection (cold).
  • Take the flu shot annually. Of course, be sure to check with your health care provider if this is suitable for your condition.
  • Eat right. Making certain to eat sufficient fresh fruits and vegetables will help to support your natural immune system.
  • Maintain a suitable and appropriate level of exercise. Working out regularly enhances your body's natural immune system..
  • Be sure to stay away from family, friends and colleagues who are exhibiting symptoms themselves, (like coughing and sneezing). Even though this may seem obvious, it's not always easy to do in a tactful way. Do your best and protect yourself. With a suitable explanation, people should understand, whether or not they agree.
  • If you're a smoker, try to quit. Smoking increases the risk of infections by making structural changes to the respiratory tract and decreasing immune response. Smoking actually destroys the cilia, which are part of the natural immune system in the upper airways. This can predispose you to infection.
  • Do not double dip! People who 'double dip' (in the salsa, spinach dip, etc.), may be passing germs through the food. Believe it or not, not everyone is attuned to this.
  • Practice safe sneezing! The latest safe way to sneeze or cough is into the crook of your elbow, (the inside part of your arm). By not coughing or sneezing into your hands (the old way), you actively keep yourself from spreading germs with your hands..

Editor's Note: The information in this article cannot be substituted for medical advice. Always consult your doctor before beginning, ending, or changing treatments.

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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.

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