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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Asthma and Colds

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If you have asthma, catching a cold may worsen or trigger your symptoms. It's important to understand asthma symptoms and cold symptoms and to know which asthma medicines you need to use to prevent asthma flares and asthma attacks. The information here about asthma can help you stay well when coping with asthma and a cold.

What's the Difference Between Asthma and Colds?

Asthma is associated with inflammation of the lower airways inside your lungs called the bronchial tubes. Colds result from infection with a virus. Cold viruses mainly affect your nose and throat. These are the upper airways.

You normally take air into your body through your nose and windpipe into your bronchial tubes, which go on to branch into smaller tubes. At the end of these tubes there are tiny air sacs called alveoli that deliver oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from the blood as we breathe.

During normal breathing, the bands of muscle that surround the airways are relaxed. Air moves freely. During an asthma attack, three main changes occur that stop air from moving easily through the airways:

  1. The bands of muscle that surround the airways tighten. This makes the airways narrow. This tightening is called bronchospasm.
  2. The lining of the airways becomes swollen or inflamed.
  3. The cells that line the airways produce more mucus, which is thicker than normal.

All of these factors -- bronchospasm, inflammation, and mucus production -- cause asthma symptoms such as difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, breathlessness, and difficulty performing activities.

Colds are respiratory infections caused by viruses. Several hundred different viruses may cause your cold symptoms. These viruses can also affect your airways, sinuses, throat, voice box, and bronchial tubes.

What Are the Symptoms of Asthma?

Not every person with asthma has the same symptoms in the same way. Symptoms of asthma may also vary from one asthma episode to the next. They might be mild one time and severe another time.

Asthma does not cause a fever, chills, muscle aches, or sore throat. The most common asthma symptoms include:

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