Every person has a different experience with asthma and may have a different trigger

People with asthma have airways that are more sensitive to some things that may not impact other people without asthma. The things that set off or start symptoms are called triggers. 

Colds and flu

The flu and other viral infections are the most common trigger for asthma flare-ups (attacks). Colds and flu can be more serious for people with asthma, even if your asthma is mild or your symptoms are well-controlled by medication.

You can’t really avoid them, but you can reduce your risk of catching viral infections:

  • Wash your hands before you eat or touch your face, eyes or nose
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or elbow
  • Avoid crowded spaces where possible – especially where people have colds
  • Have the flu vaccination every year
  • Adhere to social distancing
  • Stay home when unwell

Good asthma management year-round is critical to ensuring you are ready for the winter cold and flu season.

Flu vaccination

One of the best ways to protect yourself from the flu and spreading it to others is annual flu vaccination. The flu virus is always changing, so it is important to have the flu vaccine every year. This will ensure you and your family are protected against the most recent flu virus strains that may be around.

It is best to be vaccinated from mid-late April so your body has time to protect itself and you are ready for the peak flu period, from June to September. Everyone with asthma including all family members should be vaccinated against the flu, especially people with severe asthma.

Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for a free flu vaccination under the National Immunisation Program.

To find out more about flu and the National Immunisation Program:

  • Call the National Immunisation Hotline: 1800 671 811
  • Visit the Department of Health’s immunisation website at health.gov.au/immunisation 

This winter, it’s also important for people with asthma to get the COVID vaccine in addition to the annual flu vaccine.

COVID-19 and asthma

We strongly support the COVID-19 vaccination program roll out across Australia. People with asthma, including people with severe asthma, should feel confident about accessing these vaccines alongside other Australians.

It is recommended that people with asthma get both the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine. However, the Department of Health recommends spreading the vaccines apart by at least two weeks. For more information on this question, speak with your doctor.

Read our COVID-19 vaccine and asthma FAQ’s here

Minimising Triggers

Identifying and minimising exposure to confirmed triggers may help improve asthma control. Other than colds and flu, winter triggers may also include changes in temperature, dust mites, pollens and mould.

Using a preservative-free saline nasal spray or sinus irrigation:

  • helps to reduce your allergen and viral load and can improve your nasal symptoms
  • helps to cleanse and hydrate nasal tissues
  • if used 10 minutes prior to medicated nasal sprays it may improve their effectiveness
  • may relieve nasal and sinus congestion by thinning excess mucus in the nose and sinuses

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the benefits of reducing and washing away allergens, irritants and viruses breathed into your nose when you use a preservative-free saline nasal spray or sinus irrigation.

winter hygieneWinter hygiene

The influenza virus can live on surfaces such as handrails, lift buttons, and toilets for 48 hours and is spread when people touch a surface with the flu virus on it and then touch their own mouth or nose.

Stopping the spread of flu is possible by making sure you’re following three simple steps:

  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow
  • Wash your hands thoroughly, and
  • If you’re unwell, stay home

If you don’t have a tissue handy and you feel a sneeze or cough coming on, cough into your elbow. This stops your hands from getting covered in the flu virus and will help stop the spread of those nasty germs. If you do use a tissue, make sure you dispose of it into a bin nearby and then wash your hands thoroughly.

Flu viruses are carried in almost invisible droplets from saliva, sneezes, coughs, and runny noses. Hands are one of the top spreaders of germs and viruses. Washing your hands thoroughly with soap at regular intervals throughout the day is a quick and easy way to help stop the spread of these germs.

Visit the Better Health Channel for more information and resources on how you can stop the spread of colds and flu.

heater iconWinter heating

Some heating systems can be a trigger for people with asthma.

Consider what triggers your asthma and how you can reduce your exposure:

  • Un-flued gas heating can release chemicals such as nitrogen dioxide which can be a trigger for asthma
  • Fan-forced ducted heating can collect dust, and if not cleaned will circulate dust around the home. Make sure you have your ducted heating cleaned before using it after a period of time.
  • Wood fire heaters produce high levels of smoke and particulate matter (PM2.5) which can be a trigger for asthma. Below are some ways to reduce the impact of wood heater smoke:
  • Have your flu professionally checked and cleaned before winter
  • Burn only dry, unseasoned, untreated wood
  • Get a hot fire started, using plenty of paper and small kindling
  • Don’t overload your wood heater with too much wood
  • Never leave your fire to smoulder overnight, this starves the fire of oxygen, producing smoke and pollution.

If smoke from wood fire heating is a trigger for your asthma, it is recommended that you stop using a wood fire heating and find an alternative source of heating.

Air quality

Poor air quality can be hard to avoid. Children, older people, pregnant women and those with pre-existing health conditions like asthma, or respiratory and cardiac conditions are most at risk of negative health impacts.

Poor air quality can arise from a variety of sources such as bushfire, hazard reduction burning, woodfire heaters, transport and industry processes.

If you live close to sources of wood heater emissions,

  • Ensure you avoid the polluted air as much as you can.
  • Ensure you use your preventer regularly, as usual, always carry your reliever and an updated AAP
  • You may find that wearing a P2 or N95 mask can be protective against inhaling the smoke

If you think the smoke is excessive and/or your asthma is consistently exacerbated, you may want to

  • Speak with your neighbours
  • Approach your council
  • Approach the EPA


ENT, Bird Healthcare and AirPhysio are campaign partners of Asthma Australia and have not been involved in the development of this webpage.