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Anxiety and Asthma

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10th, 2020

Anxiety and Asthma

Asthma is a distressing and potentially dangerous condition that is caused by obstruction of the airways due to inflammation. Anxiety is a mental health condition that causes worries and stress, along with physical symptoms that can cause further anxiety.

The two conditions do not appear at first glance to be related, but anxiety and asthma do have a very complicated relationship that can cause issues in your life if you suffer from either.

Anxiety Does Not Cause Asthma

Some people worry that anxiety causes asthma. There is currently no evidence that anxiety can create asthma in those that did not originally have the condition. But there is a great deal of evidence that anxiety can worsen existing asthma symptoms.

The most likely reasons for why anxiety exacerbates asthma symptoms include:

  • Hyperventilation Anxiety changes breathing habits. Many studies have shown that hyperventilation, whether it's caused by a disorder (like anxiety) or no disorder at all, appears to increase the likelihood of an asthma attack. So those with anxiety that may be more prone to hyperventilating may be unintentionally forcing their own attack symptoms.
  • Inflammation Stress can lead to inflammation. Asthma is the inflammation of airways. It's unlikely that stress causes the inflammation that leads to asthma, but it's possible that stress makes it harder to control inflammation when your asthma symptoms are acting up.
  • General Physiological Changes On a physical level, stress does cause some issues that may contribute to asthma. For example, anxiety can release an excess of histamine (the chemical linked to allergies) that can lead to asthma attacks. Stress may also weaken your immune system in such a way that you become more vulnerable to viruses and external asthma triggers.
  • Muscle Constriction Muscle constriction is also very common with anxiety. Muscle constriction can lead to tighter chest and other issues that may trigger asthma.

In sum, it doesn't appear that asthma can be caused by anxiety alone, but there are strong indications that anxiety can make it much worse, especially if you are living with persistent anxiety or stress.

Asthma Can Also Cause Anxiety

It's also important to note that asthma can actually cause anxiety as well - which in turn may further exacerbate the asthma. Asthma and shortness of breath are common triggers of panic attacks, and the general dangers and stress of the asthma experience can play a very strong triggering role in the development of long term anxiety issues.

How to Control Asthma When you Have Anxiety

Asthma is still a separate condition, and as such it is treated separately. Continue to take medications as directed by your doctor, and keep your emergency inhaler on hand just in case. Although there are links between anxiety and asthma, you'll still need to control your asthma just as you would if you didn’t have anxiety.

But you can also look for ways to manage your anxiety. If you're able to get your anxiety under control, you should be able to weaken the likelihood of asthma flares. In other words, if you’re less anxious, you’ll be better equipped to cope with your asthma.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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