Keep your lungs healthy: It’s more important than ever to get a flu jab

May 28, 2020
Keeping up-to-date with your vaccines is super important. Source: Getty.

The spread of coronavirus in Australia might be slowing down, but it’s still really important to prioritise your lung health, especially as we head into winter, Professor Christine Jenkins, chair of Lung Foundation Australia and a leading respiratory physician, tells Starts at 60.  She says it’s now more important than ever to get a flu shot and, if indicated, pneumonia shot.

Why a flu jab is a good idea

While the flu vaccine won’t prevent you from getting Covid-19, it can reduce the severity and spread of seasonal influenza, Professor Jenkins says. On the other hand, the pneumonia shot protects against pneumococcal pneumonia, a type of pneumonia that can infect the upper respiratory tract.

Even if you’re self-isolating, you will still be at risk of getting the flu when you do leave the house for essential activities, so staying up-to-date with your vaccinations is super important. And because the flu changes from one year to the next, a new vaccination is required each year.

“Older people and those with underlying [medical conditions] such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or diseases requiring chemotherapy or immune suppressive treatment, are at much greater risk of becoming severely unwell or even dying from influenza or pneumococcal pneumonia,” Professor Jenkins adds.

According to the Heart Foundation, previous studies have found that the flu shot can cut the risk of having a heart attack by up to 45 per cent. Despite these statistics, only half of all Australians living with chronic conditions like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes and asthma get their annual flu jab.

About lung health

Research from Lung Foundation Australia shows most people rarely think about their lung health, even though seven million Australians are currently living with a lung condition. With that being said, early signs of lung disease are easy to overlook. Symptoms of lung disease tend to creep up slowly and often people put them down to ageing or lack of fitness. But, Professor Jenkins says it’s important to remember that breathlessness or a persistent cough isn’t normal.

“Knowing the early warning signs of lung disease and getting an early diagnosis can help you receive treatment before the disease becomes serious or even life-threatening,” she says.

So, how often should you get your lungs checked? If you’re experiencing respiratory symptoms such as breathlessness or a persistent cough, talk to your doctor about getting a lung health check. Professor Jenkins adds those with a pre-existing lung condition like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) should have their lungs checked at least once a year. While ex-smokers should also have regular check-ups. A lung health check will typically involve answering some questions about your general health and your lungs.

“Your doctor may also ask you to undertake a physical examination and a breathing test that measures lung function,” Professor Jenkins adds. “Sometimes a chest X-ray or CT scan is needed as well.”

 Although age is a risk factor for developing lung disease, Professor Jenkins says the most important thing, at any age, is recognising any new symptoms, or a change in symptoms if you have an underlying lung condition.

Stories that matter
Emails delivered daily
Sign up