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September 2011 | 1 Comments | Print
Pulmonary Disease, Critical Care Medicine and Internal Medicine

Board Certification

Pulmonary Disease, Critical Care Medicine, Internal Medicine 


University of Cincinnati College of Medicine


The Christ Hospital


Indiana University

Prevent the sneeze, avoid the wheeze

As if the common cold or flu isn’t dreadful enough, if you’re one of the thousands of Cincinnatians who suffer from asthma, you’ll have to take extra precaution to ensure a sneeze doesn’t turn into a wheeze.

“The most common cause of asthma exacerbations in adults and children during the fall and winter are viral infections,” says Christopher Schmitt, M.D., pulmonary and critical care specialist with The Christ Hospital.

Frigid winter air and cold and flu symptoms like chest and nasal congestion can trigger or worsen asthma attacks. During an attack, muscles in the airway constrict and block airflow, which leads to wheezing, coughing, chest pain or breathlessness.

But even before you reach for the vitamin C, follow these steps to breathe easy this cold and flu season:

  • Make an asthma action plan. As much as you try to avoid getting sick, if you do catch a virus, being prepared could help prevent a trip to the ER. Make sure to take controller medications as prescribed; have access to quick-relief inhalers; and track your air output daily using a flow meter. “Put a back-up inhaler in your car or a drawer at work so you’re ready even when you’re away from home,” Dr. Schmitt says.
  • Get the flu shot annually. As soon as the flu vaccine is available, everyone six months and older should receive a flu shot. Asthmatic people ages 19 to 64 who take controller medications should also receive a one-time pneumococcal vaccine to prevent pneumonia. “Most people who have asthma could be at risk for infections in the lung and other organs,” Dr. Schmitt says. 
  • Shape up your immune system. “People with asthma are not more prone to infection, but when they do get sick, respiratory tract symptoms are usually more severe and last longer,” Dr. Schmitt explains. With that said, try to avoid illness altogether with these cold and flu prevention tips.
  • Call your physician at the onset of symptoms. Don’t assume you can self-treat the cold or flu. Symptoms can quickly go from annoying to severe. “We might be able to prescribe a medication that can lessen the symptoms and length of the virus infection,” Dr. Schmitt says. “We want to do what we can to stop an asthma attack from happening.”

Long-term relief for asthma

Seasonal factors can affect all asthma sufferers, but for those with severe asthma, attacks can be ongoing. Now, chronic asthma patients have a long-term solution. A new outpatient procedure at The Christ Hospital, called bronchial thermoplasty, delivers controlled heat to the wall of the lungs to reduce excess smooth muscle that builds up in the airway of asthmatic patients. With less muscle to constrict, attacks become less frequent and severe.

“The procedure reduces the number of asthma attacks, trips to the ER and days off from work and school,” Dr. Schmitt says.

The procedure is only ideal for chronic asthma cases and may be covered by insurance with pre-approval. The only way to know if you’re a candidate is by making an appointment with your physician. “If you have any form of asthma, check in with your physician now to make sure we can prepare you for cold and flu season,” Dr. Schmitt says.

Breathe easy this cold and flu season by scheduling a preventive check-up with your primary care physician. Call 877-904-4YOU or visit for more information. 

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My cousin has asthma. I'll have to let her know there are some unique ways to prevent getting sick and risk an asthma attack this winter. 

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