Flu Can Be Serious for Children with Asthma

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By: Eli Nussbaum, M.D., medical director, Pediatric Pulmonary Center, Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach

Asthma is one of the most common chronic childhood disorders affecting an estimated 7.1 million children in the U.S. For parents, it is important to know what can trigger your child’s asthma and how to prevent asthma attacks.

Asthma triggers are often harmless to most people, but certain substances, weather conditions or even other diseases, like the flu, can make life difficult for a child with asthma. Though triggers don’t cause asthma, triggers can lead to asthma symptoms and flare-ups.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, each year an average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized because of influenza complications.

Because children with asthma have sensitive airways, the flu can cause further inflammation and bring on an asthma attack. With already weakened lungs and airways, the flu can even lead to more serious conditions like pneumonia and other respiratory infections.

Even healthy kids of any age can get seriously sick from the flu, and they can spread it to family, friends and others.

Prevent Colds and Flu
While seasonal flu viruses can be detected year-round, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter or what is often referred to as “flu season.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, flu activity often begins to increase in October and peaks between December and February.

To keep your family healthy this flu season, follow these tips:

  • Wash your child’s hands with soap and water often. Wash for 20 seconds or wash long enough to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Teach your children to do the same. Try to cough or sneeze into a tissue and then throw it away. If you don’t have tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve (elbow) or shirt (shoulder).
  • Avoid crowded areas during winter.
  • Wear a mask while flying or traveling.
  • Serve healthy foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Promote regular exercise and make sure your child gets plenty of rest.
  • Visit your child’s health care provider regularly and keep their vaccinations up-to-date.
  • Get a yearly flu shot. Everyone 6-months-of-age and older should get a flu vaccine every year. A flu vaccination can be done at your child’s pediatrician office, clinic or a pharmacy in your community.

If your child does experience asthma symptoms, it’s important to follow the asthma action plan written by your child’s doctor. The action plan shows daily treatments, such as medication. It also describes how to handle worsening asthma or attacks, which can be vital during flu season.

Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach has an Asthma Program dedicated to helping patients and families learn to manage their asthma. For more information, call 800-MEMORIAL or visit MillerChildrens.org/Pulmonary.

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