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.
Control Your Anxiety to Fight Asthma
Asthma can become much worse with anxiety. Learn to control your anxiety to reduce the likelihood of experiencing stress related asthma attacks.
Take my anxiety test to learn more.
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 asthma symptoms. Take my anxiety test to find out if you might have anxiety and what it means for treatment.
It's not clear why anxiety produces an increase in asthma symptoms, but the issue is fairly documented. The most likely reasons 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 that causes 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.
It doesn't appear that asthma can be caused by anxiety, 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 cause more 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 From 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. Despite the links between anxiety and asthma, you'll still need to control your asthma just as you would if it was caused by anything else.
But you can also look for ways to stop your anxiety. If you're able to get your anxiety under control, you should be able to weaken the likelihood of asthma flares.
I've helped many of those with asthma and anxiety take control of their anxiety symptoms. You should strongly consider starting with my free 7 minute anxiety test. This test is a great way to learn more about your anxiety and base treatment decisions off the results.
Kullowatz, Antje, et al. Association of depression and anxiety with health care use and quality of life in asthma patients. Respiratory medicine 101.3 (2007): 638-644.
Lúdvíksdóttir, Dóra, et al. Habitual coughing and its associations with asthma, anxiety, and gastroesophageal reflux. CHEST Journal 109.5 (1996): 1262-1268.
Di Marco, Fabiano, PierachilleSantus, and Stefano Centanni.Anxiety and depression in asthma. Current opinion in pulmonary medicine 17.1 (2011): 39.
Thoren, C. ten, and F. Petermann.Reviewing asthma and anxiety. Respiratory medicine 94.5 (2000): 409-415.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.