The flu is rarely deadly. It's flu that becomes pneumonia that kills. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs should be seriously considered on the list of things that could potentially make people more susceptible to having a flu that morphs into a deadly pneumonia.
All steroid drugs, from corticosteroids to anabolic steroids, suppress the immune system that defends against bacterial and viral infections such as pneumonia.
Chronic stress creates greater susceptibility to infection because it raises cortisol levels. Cortisol is a steroid hormone released by the adrenal glands that has many side effects when it’s chronically high. One side effect is that it reduces inflammation. At first glance that sounds good, but at the same time it suppresses the immune system. Chronically high cortisol also disrupts blood sugar balance, often leading to high insulin, obesity and sometimes, diabetes.
The most common route of steroid drug use, particularly in children, is through asthma inhalers.
Most asthma inhalers contain some form of synthetic steroid. These steroids help reduce the airway inflammation associated with asthma, but at the same time can reduce the ability of the lungs to fight bacterial and viral infections.
Steroid drug abuse among high school and college athletes is common. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 1 – 6% of high school athletes use steroid drugs to enhance their performance. This amounts to potentially hundreds of thousands of teens with suppressed immune systems who are more susceptible to viral and bacterial infection.
Steroid drugs such as prednisone are widely prescribed for people with painful inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, and for autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and lupus. They are also prescribed for those with organ transplants to suppress a rejection response by the immune system.
Even the regular use of cortisone creams for arthritis can raise cortisol levels enough to suppress the immune system.
PPI Heartburn Drugs that Suppress Stomach Acid
Proton pump inhibitors or PPIs such as Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec powerfully block the secretion of stomach acid. This has the effect of reducing heartburn and nausea, but it also blocks one of the body’s main defenses against bacteria and viruses. According to a 2004 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 70% of the hospitalized patients in the study received a PPI or other stomach acid-suppressing drug within hours of being admitted. The study showed that patients who were given PPIs had a 30% higher risk of developing pneumonia.
Statin Drugs to Lower Cholesterol
A medical group in Switzerland found that organ transplant patients who were taking statin drugs (e.g. Lipitor, Mevacor, Pravachol) did better than those who weren’t taking the drugs. Laboratory studies showed that statins did indeed suppress parts of the immune system, and the authors concluded, “This unexpected effect provides a scientific rationale for using statins as immunosuppressors, not only in organ transplantation but in numerous other pathologies as well.”
The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressant drugs (SSRIs) such as Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil increase serotonin levels and in so doing also give the immune system a boost. This boost can be the good news or the bad news. According to researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center, this boost can push the immune system into autoimmune disease, where the body starts attacking itself. These types of immune system over-reactions are also implicated in the “cytokine storms” that can create deadly inflammation in the lungs.
Both short term and long term use of the pain killing opioid drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl, codeine and morphine block the immune system’s ability to attack viral and bacterial invaders. Some pain killing drugs such as Tramdol combine an opioid with acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol), further compromising the immune system with acetaminophen’s toxic effects on liver function.
Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) is very hard on the liver, the body’s major organ of detoxification. A simple dosage mixup, such as giving a teaspoon of liquid acetaminophen vs. a dropperful, can cause liver damage, particularly in children. When the body is invaded by a virus or bacteria, the debris of the battle is processed through the liver. A compromised liver cannot effectively remove toxins caused by infection.
Fake fragrances, also known as fakegrances, such as the (so called) air fresheners, scented laundry soaps and personal care products, candles, and most perfumes are not drugs, but for many people they are certainly lung irritants and are thought to be a major cause of asthma in children.
Fakegrances often contain dozens if not hundreds of chemicals, many of them extremely toxic. Fakegrances remain unregulated in the U.S., the justification being that the toxic chemicals are present in such small amounts that they are not harmful. However, constant exposure through scented personal care products, wearing fakegranced clothing, sleeping on fakegranced sheets and living with (so called) air fresheners in the home and car, certainly has an impact on the lungs.
There has been an explosion in the use of hand sanitizer gels, all of them containing fakegrances. Read more in Top Reasons to Avoid Hand Sanitizers.
For more info about fakegrances read Why Scented Products are not Safe.
Drugs that are Specifically Toxic to the Lungs
The website Pneumotox is run by two doctors in the Department of Pulmonary Diseases and Intensive Care Unit, University Hospital in Dijon, France. It lists more than 300 drugs along with their specific negative effects on the lungs, and has a rating system based on adverse effects reported in medical literature.
Strive for Immune Balance
If you’re taking drugs of any kind, make a list of their brand names and generic names, and look them up on the internet to see if they suppress the immune system. Both Drugs.com and RxList.com include side effects for prescription drugs. Even if you need to stay on an immune-suppressing drug, it’s important to know how it’s affecting your body.
Avoid products that claim to “super charge” the immune system. You don’t necessarily want a super charged immune system that might over-react to a virus or bacteria, particularly in the lungs. You want a balanced immune system, which is best achieved with an overall healthy lifestyle that includes wholesome foods, moderate exercise, good sleep and stress management.