Should You Get the Flu Shot If You Have Asthma?

It is important to get a flu shot if you have asthma because getting the flu can be especially dangerous for people who have asthma. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, anyone over the age of six months who has asthma should get a flu shot every year. And if you are over age 50, you can be at an even higher high risk of complications from a flu infection.

The best time to get the flu vaccine is October or November and it takes about 2 weeks for you to develop full immunity.

Pharmacist giving a flu shot
Terry Vine / Getty Images

The flu may make your asthma worse, and it may also make you sick enough to visit the ER and end up in the hospital. But, It does not have to be that way. Getting a flu shot may prevent these complications.

Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about getting your flu shot every October—and if you didn't get it yet during flu season, it is better to get your flu shot late rather than not at all. However, if you're already having a fever and feeling achy, it is too late for the shot to protect you if your symptoms are caused by the flu.

Why Asthmatics Avoid the Flu Vaccination

Despite the recommendation for a flu vaccination, many asthmatics still do not get flu shots. The CDC reports that only 1 in 3 adult asthmatics and 1 in 5 asthmatics under the age of 50 get their annual flu vaccination.

The benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. The risks of serious complications from the vaccine are low and the risk of hospitalization and infection among high-risk individuals without vaccination is significant.

Here are a few of the reasons people use to rationalize not getting vaccinated and some explanation debunking their decisions.

You Don't Get Sick

While you might not have gotten sick last year, the CDC estimates that the flu sends 225,000 people to the hospital and causes death in 35,000. Just because you did not get sick last year doesn't mean you won't get sick this year.

You Got Sick From the Vaccine

The flu shot is made from a killed virus, so it cannot cause the flu. Ask your healthcare provider if you can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen around the time of your flu shot to help prevent reactions from the flu vaccine. And it's important to know that people who have asthma are no more likely to experience side effects from the flu vaccine compared to those without asthma.

There is a small chance that some people may develop some flu-like symptoms from the nasal flu vaccine because it is made from a live, weakened flu virus. Keep in mind that the nasal vaccines are not FDA approved for people with asthma. Additionally, the nasal flu vaccine is not widely used due to reports that it could be less effective than the shot.

You're Scared of the Side Effects

Side effects are normally minor, and include soreness or redness at the injection site, achiness, or a low-grade fever. People rarely develop a serious allergic reaction to the flu shot.

And even more rarely, about one out of every 1 million people vaccinated may develop Guillain Barre syndrome (a neurological disorder) as a complication.

On the other hand, asthmatics who contract the flu are more likely to get pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, and experience severe breathing problems.

You'll Just Take the Medicine If You Get the Flu

If you get the flu, it's important that you seek medical attention—especially if you have asthma. But, typically, antiviral flu treatments like Tamiflu have to be taken within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms in order to be effective. And antivirals only decrease flu symptoms by about one day and may not prevent more serious complications.

So you might need intensive medical treatment if you get the flu, such as respiratory treatment for your asthma, intravenous (IV, in a vein), fluids, and more—even if you take an antiviral.

The Government Asked Everyone to Get Vaccinated and People Died

Sometimes people share conspiracy theories or misinformation about health issues. Make sure you are getting your information from a trusted source—like your own medical care team—which might include your primary care provider, your asthma healthcare provider, nurse, pharmacist, and respiratory therapist.

You Develop Natural Immunity

While this is technically a true statement, natural immunity to flu only lasts a few months. As a result, you do not have immunity in the next flu year—and the virus can be different from year to year.

You Got the Vaccine but Still Got Sick

In the case of the flu, you might be one of the unlucky people who gets the flu after getting vaccinated.

It's true that the flu shot is not always effective against the particular strain of flu coming around from one year to another. But researchers work hard every flu season to identify the strain of flu that's most likely to cause problems—and your chances of getting sick are much lower if you are vaccinated than if you aren't.

It Costs Too Much

Most insurance plans will cover the cost of your flu vaccination. If not, look up "flu shots" + "your city." Chances are that you can find a clinic, pharmacy, or hospital that is either giving them away for free or charging a minimal fee, usually below $10.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Pat Bass, MD
Dr. Bass is a board-certified internist, pediatrician, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians.