Influenza (the flu) can be a very serious illness. While it doesn't keep most people down for long, it may lead to serious complications for some. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu complications such as pneumonia, sinus infections, ear infections, and dehydration occur most often in infants, young children, and the elderly. For those with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or COPD, it can cause a worsening of the condition—and even death.
COPD and the Flu
When you have COPD and you get the flu, your normal symptoms such as cough, excess mucus production, and shortness of breath will worsen. You may also experience a fever, muscle aches, headache, and a sore throat. You may need to be hospitalized to keep your symptoms under control.
Preventing the Flu
It's especially important for those with COPD to take action to prevent the flu. A good start is avoiding crowds during the cold and flu season and washing your hands frequently. More importantly, talk to your doctor about getting a yearly flu shot. Flu shots are about 70 to 90 percent effective in protecting you against the flu. Those who live in your household or have frequent contact with you should also get a flu shot.
How do flu shots work? The vaccine contains a very small amount of inactivated (killed) flu viruses. When you get an injection of the vaccine, your body responds by developing antibodies (immune system protection) against the viruses so that when you encounter the flu, you have a lower chance of getting ill.
What to Do if You Get Sick
If you develop the flu, contact your doctor immediately. They may want to see you or prescribe an antiviral medication for you. If taken within 48 hours of developing the flu, antiviral medications can help to reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms. You may also need adjustment of your regular medications to help keep your COPD under control.
Never take over-the-counter medications without first discussing with your doctor. They may approve of your taking an over-the-counter medication to reduce fever and body aches, but some over-the-counter medications for cold and flu can dry up your secretions, making it harder to cough them up. Some cough medications can prevent you from clearing your airways effectively.