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Anxiety and Asthma

Daniel Sher, MA, Clin Psychology
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:

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.

Article Resources
  1. 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.
  2. Lúdvíksdóttir, Dóra, et al. Habitual coughing and its associations with asthma, anxiety, and gastroesophageal reflux. CHEST Journal 109.5 (1996): 1262-1268.
  3. Di Marco, Fabiano, PierachilleSantus, and Stefano Centanni.Anxiety and depression in asthma. Current opinion in pulmonary medicine 17.1 (2011): 39.
  4. Thoren, C. ten, and F. Petermann.Reviewing asthma and anxiety. Respiratory medicine 94.5 (2000): 409-415. 
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