Why Do Colds Last Longer When You Have Asthma?!

Last updated: March 2021

I was talking to a coworker (who has asthma) who was frustrated that he was STILL sick. He had a cold for three weeks, but still wasn't feeling better.

He and another coworker had traveled across the country for a work conference. They both came down with a cold at the same time, but the coworker who didn't have asthma was only sick for 3 days. This coworker with asthma has been sick for over 3 weeks! (Same cold!)

So, why does that happen?

Jewish National Hospital explains it this way:

"Recent research has shown that inflammation of the lining of the airways is the most common feature of asthma. When they are stimulated, certain cells lining the airways release chemical substances (mediators) that lead to inflammation. This causes the airway lining to swell and narrow. The inflammation may last for hours, days or weeks following an episode. Most people with asthma have some degree of inflammation all of the time. Some long-term control medications can help prevent and reduce inflammation."

I take a controller (or maintenance) inhaler every day to help control the swelling (or inflammation) in my lungs. If I don't use it every day, I can tell a BIG difference. I wake up coughing at night, I have a hard time exercising without coughing and my chest is always tight. , I need to use more asthma medicine than just a rescue inhaler.

The importance of understanding asthma

When I am helping families learn about asthma, I take a visual aid. I want to show them what the bronchial tubes in the lungs looks like. So, I bring my "normal" bronchial tube (for people who don't have asthma). It's an empty paper towel tube covered in hot pink paper with rubber bands around it. The other bronchial tube (for those with asthma) is a short piece of hot pink pool noodle with rubber bands around it and plastic wrap coming out of the middle.

It helps families see the three things that happen with asthma: mucus production (which is supposed to be the plastic wrap coming out of the middle of the tube), swelling (the pool noodle), and the tightening of the bands around the airways - bronchspasm (the rubber bands around the outside of the pool noodle)

I show them the paper towel tube and tell them that's what they get to breath through. Then I show them the short piece of pool noodle and tell them that's what those of us with asthma get to breathe through.

When I hold them up side by side, they can see how open the middle of the paper towel tube is. Then they gasp when they see how thick the sides of a pool noodle are (which shows swelling in the lungs). I tell them, remember, "Don't be a pool noodle!" It's funny, and it gets them to remember what their lungs look like with the inflammation.

Then I tell them that if you already have swelling in your lungs, and THEN get a cold on top of that, it can be just too much for your lungs. It can lead to coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, tight chest and just plain feeling miserable. And it can drag on for weeks.

Sometimes, a cold can turn into bronchitis or pneumonia.

So, be careful now that cold season is headed our way. Wash your hands, use paper towels on door knobs (avoid those germs!) and get lots of sleep. I also avoid sick people at work and wash my hands after I use the copy machine or touch the refrigerator door hand. (Seriously, you can never be to careful...)

What have you found to protect yourself from getting sick?

Do you feel like your cold drags on forever?

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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 Asthma.net 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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