Colds and Chronic Medical Conditions

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on April 19, 2022
3 min read

For most folks, the misery of a cold is a short-term affair. Sure, you feel sneezy and drippy now, but you feel confident you'll be out of the woods in a few days, maybe a few weeks at most. If you have an ongoing medical condition, though, you need to take extra precautions. Getting sick can make your health problems worse.


It's a chronic, or long-term, lung disease that affects more than 25 million Americans. If you have it, a cold can make your symptoms worse. You might find it harder to breathe.

Also, some medications, like antihistamines, can thicken mucus, making it harder to cough up when you have asthma.

For in-depth information, see Asthma and Colds.

If you have complications from your cold, such as lung infections, it makes it hard to take in oxygen efficiently.

When that happens, your heart works even harder to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.

For in-depth information, see Heart Disease and Colds.

It makes it harder for you to ward off a cold virus. Also, when you get sick, it adds extra stress to your body. This can affect your blood sugar levels, so it's important to take steps to keep them in a good range.

For in-depth information, see Diabetes and Colds.

Emphysema and chronic bronchitis affect about 11 million adults in the U.S. In both conditions, which are usually caused by long-term smoking, there's an airflow blockage that gets in the way of breathing.

The symptoms of both conditions get worse when you have a cold.

For in-depth information, see Emphysema, Chronic Bronchitis, and Colds.

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, kills or damages cells in the immune system, your body's defense against germs. This makes it more difficult to fight infections like a cold. When you get sick, you're also more likely to get complications such as pneumonia.

For in-depth information, see HIV/AIDS and Colds.

It's sometimes hard to avoid catching a cold, but there are steps you can take to cut your risk:

Wash your hands. Most cold viruses are spread by direct contact. Fight back by keeping your hands clean.

Don't touch your face. Viruses enter your body through your eyes, nose, and mouth. Keep your hands away from those areas to avoid a cold.

Move regularly. Aerobic exercise, which gets your heart pounding, helps increase your body's natural virus-killing cells and helps you fight off a cold. If you've got a long-term medical condition, talk to your doctor before you start a program of physical activity.

Eat healthy. Make sure your diet includes foods with lots of nutrients, like dark green, red, and yellow vegetables and fruits. But make sure your meals include lean protein, good fats, and complex carbs to keep your immune system in top shape.

Don't smoke. Heavy smokers get more severe colds and more frequent ones. Even being around smoke zaps your body's ability to fight off a cold.

Cut down on alcohol. Heavy drinkers are more likely to get sick and also get complications from a cold.

De-stress. There's some evidence that when you relax, your immune system gets stronger. Take time to learn how, and use those techniques throughout your day.

People with some long-term medical conditions are more likely to have side effects from cold medicines. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you buy any. And make sure the medication doesn't interfere with other drugs you take.

Talk to your doctor before you get sick so you can make an action plan for a cold. It can lay out what to do if:

Call 911 if you have trouble breathing or get chest pain.