The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is anticipating a more severe flu season this year and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is already reporting an increase in flu activity in the U.S. Staying healthy during cold and flu season is important for everyone, but for patients with pulmonary hypertension (PH), it can be especially important.

Prevention is the key. In addition to recommending an annual flu vaccination for people in high-risk groups, including people with chronic pulmonary disorders and children 6 months and older, the CDC also recommends the flu vaccine for caregivers and contacts of people in the high-risk groups. The best time to get the flu vaccine is around 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 warm water (lather with soap at least 20 seconds prior to rinsing), or use an alcohol-based sanitizer. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, remote controls and cellphones.

If you get sick, take care of yourself:

  1. Keep taking your PH medications. If you are having trouble doing this, contact your health care provider immediately.
  2. When your body tells you to slow down, listen. Take a nap if needed.
  3. Stay hydrated. Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to fluid loss and affect your electrolyte balance. Check with your health care provider for strategies on staying 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. Your health care provider can help provide information on safely managing fluid intake or making adjustments to your diuretics.
  4. If you have the flu, consider talking to your health care team about medications that may shorten the duration of the flu 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 don’t develop any complications.
  5. Eat well. Maintaining good nutrition when sick will help your immune system while you heal.

If you have PH, remember these important considerations:

  1. Contact your doctor if you have trouble breathing, chest pain, vomiting, or your symptoms do not improve or get worse after four or five days.
  2. Contact your health care provider if you have questions, symptoms get worse or do not resolve, or if you can’t continue taking your PH medications.
  3. 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.