What may increase your risk for problems from respiratory illness?

Many conditions, diseases, medicines, and lifestyle choices can interfere with your ability to heal or fight infection. You may be at risk for a more serious problem from your symptoms if you have any of the following. Be sure to tell your health professional.


  • Age older than 60
  • Exposure to asbestos
  • Having ear tubes in place
  • Live in or attend a long-term care facility, such as a nursing home, or adult day care
  • Living at an altitude greater than 5000 ft (1524 m)
  • Living with smokers or regularly exposed to secondhand smoke
  • Previous sinus surgery
  • Previous surgery to remove the spleen (splenectomy)
  • Recent hospitalization
  • History of a pulmonary embolism (PE) or deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Lifestyle choices

  • Smoking or other tobacco use
  • Alcohol abuse or withdrawal
  • Drug abuse or withdrawal
  • Exposure to water-damaged buildings during reconstruction
  • Occupational exposure to smoke, dust, fumes, or chemicals
  • Occupation exposure to aerosolized water, such as metal workers or lifeguards


  • Corticosteroids, such as prednisone
  • Medicines to prevent organ transplant rejection
  • Medicines used to treat cancer (chemotherapy)
  • Radiation therapy


  • Blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease
  • Cancer
  • Chronic lung diseases, such as:
    • Asthma
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
    • Cystic fibrosis
    • Sarcoidosis
    • Tuberculosis (TB)
  • Chronic upper respiratory infections, such as chronic sinusitis, ear infections, or tonsillitis
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV infection)
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Ongoing infections of the lungs, such as pneumonia or bronchitis

Last Updated: February 25, 2010

Author: Jan Nissl, RN, BS

Medical Review: David Messenger, MD Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine

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