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Asthmatics should be prepared -- but shouldn't panic -- during swine flu outbreak

April 29, 2009 |  5:13 pm

A word of advice for asthmatics during the swine flu outbreak: don't panic.

Yes, those with asthma can have a tough time with respiratory illnesses such as flu. But with proper precautions and measures, say health experts, there's no reason to unduly worry.

"Asthmatics aren't necessarily more susceptible than anybody else, but they will potentially get sicker if they get (the flu)," said Dr. Peter Katona, associate professor of clinical medicine at UCLA. Since asthmatics have a compromised immune system and their airways don't work as well as those who don’t have asthma, he said, that can lead to worse symptoms.

Precautions being touted for the general population apply to asthmatics as well, Katona added, including washing your hands and covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing.

All asthmatics should have an action plan from their physician, said Dr. Norman H. Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Assn. An action plan contains information about what to do for various illnesses and stages of symptoms, including what medications to take. If no plan exists a doctor can provide one, but again, Edelman cautions against dashing out in a mad rush. "We don't want to generate panic," he said.

As far as venturing into crowded public places, Edelman said to follow advice from local authorities.

Nancy Sander, founder and president of Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics, suggested making sure all medications are current and in good supply. "And make certain you know how to use them properly," she added, referring especially to bronchodilators, which allow for better air flow into the lungs.

-- Jeannine Stein