The flu is gone, but my lungs still aren't working... doctor again?
December 2, 2011 12:56 PM   Subscribe

YANMD... I had the flu about 3 weeks ago. I'm feeling much better now except I'm still coughing and wheezing. I have asthma, my inhaler works... But I'm using it more than I ever have. How long should I wait until I go back to the doctors?

When I went to the doctor's about two and a half weeks ago, because I had an outbreak of cold sores and Bronchitis due to a nasty case of the flu. She put me on and anti-viral medication for the cold sores and anti-biotics "in case of infection."

Well, everything is cleared up now except for the breathing problems. I finished off both meds awhile ago. Even the cough isn't nearly as bad as it was, but I still need to sleep in a reclining position (as opposed to lying flat) or I'll cough up a lung, and I can't walk fast or I'll wheeze.

It's like my asthma has gotten worse all of a sudden. For example, I'll start wheezing if someone with perfume walks by or when the heater kicks on... It's pretty freaky. I'm using my rescue inhaler at least four or five times a week. It was more than once a day while sick, so it's better but not gone. It's the wheezing that bothers me. I usually only cough in bed or if I have trouble with breathing (e.g. if I start having an asthma attack).

Should I wait a little longer? Should I see a doctor as soon as possible? My asthma has always been pretty moderate (except that one bout with pneumonia about fifteen years ago... that was pretty bad) so I'm not used to feeling out of breath all the freaking time.

For those who don't know, I'm a starving grad student with no insurance. The doctor's visit is free, but any x-rays or tests they do will not be. I'm also 45, and I've had asthma since age 27 in case that makes a difference. Oh, and I've never smoked.
posted by patheral to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
Best answer: Anecdata: I have mild asthma, and the two times in my life that I've had to use my inhaler a lot more than usual, it turned out to be I had something else, not actually an asthma-related problem, and therefore not something my inhaler could fix. I don't even remember now what the diagnoses were - the first was something cured by antibiotics which I didn't get till I became so sick that my mom had to come into the city on the train to take me to an emergency Dr's appointment because I literally could not get myself downstairs and into a cab. The second time, I ended up in the ER and needed like 2 weeks of steroids. Both times, waiting ended up costing far more than an earlier Dr's appointment would have!

If it was something else maybe I'd say just wait, but messing around with your breathing can get very dangerous and very expensive fast.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:11 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

The only time my asthma has appeared in the last decade or so has been right after a case of influenza. It really makes asthma worse. Maybe you'd benefit from a steroid inhaler for a few weeks. You'll have to see a doctor for that.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 1:15 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Give your doctor a call and ask to talk to a nurse. See what the nurse says.

My personal experience is that it takes about a month after getting sick for my asthma to go back to normal.. and that going from extremes (warm house to cold outside, etc) makes it flare up worse during that period.
posted by royalsong at 1:16 PM on December 2, 2011

if the doctor's visit is free, try to get a free sample of a steroid inhaler (like flovent or advair). you should only need to use it for a week or two.
posted by nadawi at 1:18 PM on December 2, 2011

Go to the doctor's office.

I have (very mild) allergy-induced asthma and went in to see the doctor when my breathing took a turn for the worse following an infection. They walked me around the office with an O2 sat meter on my finger, and when my O2 sats stayed just fine, they gave my a prescription for a steroid inhaler to deal with the breathing issues. It made a huge difference. (My doctor's explanation was that this kind of thing can kick up problems for people with asthma and they'd much rather deal with it than have me using the rescue inhaler every day, or even most days.)

Also, difficulties breathing are a really, really good reason to see a doctor. Air supply is serious.

Feel better soon!
posted by pie ninja at 1:33 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have pretty severe asthma and colds/flus can make it worse. It's normal to use your inhaler more especially if you're still coughing. I think you need a combination of things - 1) Mucinex to cough up the lung cookies more easily, 2) more albuterol (I'm assuming this is what's in your inhaler) to keep the asthma at bay (like 2 puffs every 4 hours - ASK your doctor), and 3) oral prednisone (steroid pills) for about a week to reduce the inflammation in your lungs and make them less sensitive as you see the end of the flu through. Mucinex is an over-the-counter expectorant that loosens the phlegm. The prednisone is prescription but very cheap and very effective. If you don't see improvement over the weekend, you need to go in and see the doctor. Be sure to take the prednisone as directed, it's tapered off, like 3 pills for 3 days, 2 pills for 3 days, 1 pill for 2 days or some such schedule. Don't stop taking them abruptly cause you're feeling better - that's bad for your adrenal system. So, all that to say - call your doctor. She/he can probably do everything over the phone and call in the prednisone (have pharmacy number handy). If you're not better on Monday, you need to go in.
posted by shoesietart at 1:51 PM on December 2, 2011

Nthing going to the doctor and getting a steroid inhaler. You will feel so much better. I have extremely mild asthma and whenever I get sick I start using my steroid inhaler prophylactically, because if I don't I'll be miserable for weeks after I recover from the illness.
posted by enlarged to show texture at 2:03 PM on December 2, 2011

"I know someone who" had a really bad cold and thought it was lingering then thought they had severe spring fever but actually had a lurking pulmonary embolism.

On the other hand, I have coughs that linger for weeks. 3 weeks after the flu would be utterly unremarkable for me. On the other hand, if it's remarkable for YOU, then ...

If I had health insurance, I'd call and ask. If they give you a brushoff or just say "take xyx," I'd be sure to say "OK, what do I watch out for or at what point should I call again if it does not improve?"

Hope you feel better soon!
posted by wintersweet at 2:04 PM on December 2, 2011

Echoing the others -- this is pretty typical after the flu if you have asthma. Here in Ontario we're considered a "high risk" group and heavily encouraged to get the flu shot. Additionally, the one time I had the flu I had to go back to my doctor a week after I felt better because my breathing was still quite bad. She gave me a steroid inhaler that I took daily for a few weeks.
posted by aclevername at 2:04 PM on December 2, 2011

Best answer: Hi. I am a pulmonologist. What you describe is exceedingly common. A viral upper airway infection can (and in my experience, more often than not does) set off asthma. Unfortunately, the recovery can sometimes take months, and though you're doing better, using your breakthrough inhaler that frequently and being freaked out about being out of breath all the time pretty much means that your asthma is now inadequately controlled. So yes, see a doctor. Despite the fact that you're headed the rate direction, you currently in a state of what might be called hyper-responsiveness, which sort of puts you at risk of having a more serious exacerbation. You may need a longer acting inhaler or even a short course of prednisone. Don't torture yourself and take unnecessary risks. See the doctor, let them know about your financial limitations, and I'm sure they can work with you.
posted by drpynchon at 4:25 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'll head to the doctor on Monday and see what she can do. Steroids like prednisone are not good for me because they set off my mania and I'm already stressed (It's finals week and I have three papers due +2 finals), but maybe I can handle a steroid inhaler... It's been a while since I've taken one.
posted by patheral at 7:19 AM on December 3, 2011

Response by poster: Just so's y'all know, my breathing has calmed *way* down. It was really bad on Friday, but I'm breathing better now. I haven't had to use my inhaler at all today or yesterday. I also haven't been able to get to the doctor's because I have three papers to write (well, two now) and finals. A final tomorrow, a paper Wednesday and a final on Thursday. I don't have time! I also have to work...

Since I'm not turning blue or anything I'll see if I continue to improve over the week (the weather has been pretty calm this weekend so that might have something to do with it, but it's getting colder tonight and into tomorrow). Everything's over by Thursday. I'm pretty sure I can hang on until then.
posted by patheral at 5:21 PM on December 5, 2011

Glad you're feeling better. Good luck on your finals. Do try and take it easy even though you're really busy. Next year, get a flu shot. People with asthmas are high risk. You might even ask your doctor if you should still get one this year...well after you're over this bout.
posted by shoesietart at 12:21 AM on December 6, 2011

Response by poster: I meant to get a flu shot this year, but they're not available yet? or something... This last semester has been killing me. Honestly, I'm surprised I've been able to make it to class on time.
posted by patheral at 5:10 PM on December 6, 2011

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