Staying healthy during cold and flu season is important for everyone, but for patients with pulmonary hypertension (PH), it is especially important. Cold and flu prevention is the key. In addition to recommending an annual influenza vaccination for people in high-risk groups—including people with chronic lung diseases and children six months and older—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends the flu vaccine for caregivers and contacts of people in high-risk groups. The best time to get the flu vaccine is by the end of October, but you can still receive a flu shot throughout flu season. Speak to your doctor about getting a flu shot if you have not yet done so.

When possible, avoid people who are sick. Wash your hands often with soap and running water (lather with soap at least 20 seconds prior to rinsing) and/or use an alcohol-based sanitizer. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, keyboards, phones and remote controls.

If you get sick, take care of yourself:

  • Keep taking your PH medications; if you are having trouble managing this, contact your health care provider immediately.
  • When your body tells you to slow down, listen. Take a nap if needed.
  • Stay hydrated. Vomiting and diarrhea can affect your electrolyte balance (such as potassium and sodium levels). Check with your health care provider for strategies to stay hydrated if you have other health problems, such as kidney failure or if you tend to gain fluid in your legs or in your abdomen (edema). Your health care provider can help provide information on safely managing fluid intake or making adjustments to your diuretics.
  • Eat well. Maintaining good nutrition when sick will help your immune system while you heal.
  • If you have the flu, consider talking to your health care team about medications that may shorten the duration and decrease symptoms to decide if these medications are right for you. There is no “cure” for the cold or flu, so focus on supportive care to make sure you do not develop complications.

Remember these important considerations:

  • People with PH are at a higher risk for developing pneumonia. The CDC recommends pneumococcal vaccination (PPSV23) for adults between ages 19-64 with chronic lung or heart disease or for all adults 65 or older.
  • Contact your PH care provider if you have trouble breathing, chest pain, vomiting or your symptoms do not improve or get worse after four or five days.
  • Contact your PH care provider if you have questions, symptoms get worse or do not resolve or if you can’t continue taking your PH medications.
  • Always read the active ingredients in any over-the-counter medication you are considering taking. Avoid medications with pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine. Check with your PH care provider before taking any over-the-counter medication containing aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen or any herbal products.

Adapted from the Managing Colds and Flu with PH: What Should I Do When I Am Sick, and What Over-the-Counter Meds Are Safe? medically-led 2016 PHA on the Road Tampa session materials and “Helpful Hints” from the PH Resource Network: Staying Healthy and Feeling Better During Cold and Flu Season.