Today, we had an #AsthmaChat hosted on Twitter by some experts and doctors in the medical field dealing with asthma, health, and flu/colds. I was invited to participate and provide an asthmatic’s perspective during the chat. If you check the #AsthmaChat tweets from Oct. 19, 2016, you will find the entire chat. It is an important topic as we are entering the beginning of flu season here in Nebraska (mild so far with our warm weather but that will change as it gets cooler). It’s wonderful to have these healthy twitterchats where we can share information, knowledge, tips and tricks. Here’s what I learned:
First, prevention of flu/cold symptoms as well as illness of any sort is fundamental. So for the flu, it’s very important that asthmatics be immunized by getting a flu shot (nasal spray not effective this year). Timing can be an issue too. Flu season starts in Nebraska sometimes as early as October. So getting an early flu shot ensures that we don’t run into vaccine shortages later in the year. Also, sometimes people just forget until it’s too late and they are experiencing flu symptoms. Earlier this week, I received my flu shot from a pharmacist who told me the vaccine was preventing 7 strains of the flu (the strongest known ones). Over the weekend, our daughter received her flu shot. And since my wife is a hospital pharmacist, she received her flu shot earlier (health care workers must be kept healthy to better care for patients, family co-workers who may become ill). Health is always better than illness. So looking at the checklist above, I selected the flu shot option. It should be noted some of the flu plan options on the left are good ideas but not missing work, getting your family/co-workers sick, etc.
Second, as asthmatics, we are more vulnerable to flu symptoms than many others because our lungs are constantly in a state of more or lesser degrees of inflammation. If our lungs are more inflamed, the flu can have a stronger impact (combining with inflammation to cause deterioration in health).
Third, if asthmatics become sick with the flu or flu-like symptoms, it’s important that we see the doctor right away. If that turns into an upper respiratory infection, there are all kinds of complications that can occur. The doctors have medical training, expertise and wisdom on treatment for the flu while still managing asthma symptoms. Some flu treatment is best available if administered early in the flu cycle (first 48 hours or so).
Fourth, there is a newer asthma website I had never heard of called GetSmartAboutAsthma.com. I haven’t looked at it much yet but at least two of the doctors participating in the chat recommended we bookmark it and look at it for assistance in being more knowledgeable about our asthma symptoms.
Fifth, one doctor made the point that technology can’t entirely manage asthma by itself, especially when it coincides with flu symptoms. And since asthma is frequently nocturnal, technology is frequently not available then although a call to a doctor would be. So the doctor’s expertise is really important (combined with the technology available to help).
Sixth, one of the most important realizations I’ve had with respect to asthma is that I am not my asthma. One of the doctors in the chat reminded us this applies to every disease and medical condition. With smart preventive health and good medical treatment, it is possible minimize asthma symptoms so they do not rule our life. We can overcome many medical and health challenges by being smart and working with our medical team, as well as having daily healthy habits that are imbedded in our consciousness and become routine.
Seventh, as we age, many of us with childhood asthma become more at risk for COPD. Research from Harvard suggests we need to watch carefully for this. And of course patients with COPD are in the high-risk category too. As someone who was diagnosed in childhood with asthma, I’m already concerned about this risk.
Eighth, sometimes visual images help us better understand what asthma does to our lungs. One doctor used the example of trying to breathe through a straw instead of our lungs. With the inflammation that asthma causes, it does shrink the healthy airways’ volume and our ability to breathe normally. There are all kinds of amazing asthma infographics available and teaching tools to teach children and families what asthma is and how to manage it well.
Ninth, it’s important to have an asthma action plan, especially for children although for all those with asthma. Know what to do in case of an emergency. Make sure you know where your asthma medication is and have your primary care doctor and asthma/allergy doctor’s numbers/contact information. Tell your family/friends what to watch for with symptoms. Check your peak flow meter readings regularly.
Finally, don’t forget to take your asthma medicine and to make sure that you have current stock for all your medications. Reorder your refills early so you don’t run out when you really need them, like during flu season that we are entering now.
Bonus tip: Control your asthma inflammation as best you can (with a doctor) by eating anti-inflammatory foods and spices. If dairy causes you inflammation, cut it out. Even adding the turmeric (with black pepper), cinnamon, and ginger combination in your smoothies daily can help reduce inflammation substantially.
If we form healthy preventive habits, we can in many cases prevent flu and cold symptoms from occurring by getting our flu shots and by living a healthy lifestyle every day. If we do get the flu as asthmatics, we need to see the doctor right away. Be healthy and be wise, let’s get immunized!