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Asthma and Anxiety: How Do They Relate?

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Maya Simmons, MSN, FNP-BC
Medically reviewed by
Maya Simmons, MSN, FNP-BC
Unfortunately, anxiety can heighten an asthma sufferers’ asthma symptoms. For those with asthma, both adults and kids, there is more going on during an asthma attack than constricted breathing. Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center’s Gray Norris, MD board-certified Allergy and Immunology physician shares his thoughts on asthma and anxiety: “Any sort of breathing problems can result in a sensation of panic and fear. Shortness of breath or even the perception of shortness of breath can affect a person’s breathing. The more rapidly one breathes can create the perception of a tightening airway even when it may not be constricted. When panic sets in, breathing changes becoming uncontrolled rapid and shallow which cause more problems. Anxiety can also mimic asthma and create the problem of vocal cord dysfunction that can be mistaken for asthma. Sometimes it gets treated as asthma but it is not. The main goal in with any breathing problem is to stay calm and if possible slow the breathing down. The can help both the anxiety and true asthma.”

What Happens in Stress-Induced Asthma?

Documented by scientists, the following are just some of the stressful events that can trigger an asthma attack:
  • Family conflict
  • Relationship problems
  • Financial issues
  • School exams
  • Public speaking
  • Exposure to violence
  • Public disasters
Although stress is a normal part of life, experts concur that asthma patients who practice reducing their stress levels may lessen the number of asthma attacks a patient has. Ongoing research by psychologists offers a better understanding of how stress and our airways relate. New asthma treatments stemming from this research include:
  • Breathing retraining
  • Biofeedback
  • Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT)

What is The Difference Between an Asthma Attack and an Anxiety Attack?

For many asthma sufferers who also suffer from anxiety (panic) attacks, distinguishing between the two is confusing. For some, the two are almost indistinguishable, so following are some tips to help patients tell them apart. Symptoms that confuse patients include:
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling light-headed

How to Distinguish Between the Two

While it may be obvious to some, how a person feels is often the easiest way for patients to determine if it’s asthma or an anxiety attack. If a patient is nervous, panicky, uptight, or anxious, odds are he or she is having an anxiety attack. Another way to figure out whether it’s asthma or anxiety is how patients react to their medication. Asthma medication is powerless against anxiety attacks, and anxiety medicine has no impact on asthma. So, the medication that helps during an attack identifies the type of attack a patient is undergoing.

How to Manage Asthma and Stress

Determining the cause of stress and managing overall stress levels is the first step in managing stress. Following are some tips to guide patients in stress management:
  1. Identify stressors that influence stress levels such as relationship and family conflicts, financial problems, and too many tasks and deadlines at the same time. Patients unable to identify or resolve things that stress them should ask for professional help.
  2. Exercise is a terrific way to destroy the effects of stress.
  3. Sleep – tired people just don’t deal with stress
  4. Learn relaxation exercises like deep breathing, meditating to clear negative thoughts, and progressive muscle relaxation
  5. Biofeedback is another way to reduce stress
Patients with stress and anxiety should discuss what they are doing to reduce stress and if there are things they need to do.

Charlotte Asthma and Allergy Relief

Serving the Charlotte area since 1952, Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center is the area’s largest asthma and allergy practice made up entirely of board-certified physicians. We deliver patient-focused care to all ages. We are committed to educating the patient and caregiver, improving the quality of life, and maintaining our own high standard of expertise and care. Areas of specialty include food allergy, drug allergy, venom allergy, and asthma. Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center helps patients breathe, live and ultimately thrive by effectively treating and often curing allergy and asthma challenges.  With 15 offices staffed with board certified allergists, one of our locations is sure to be close to where you live. Contact us to set up an appointment today!

Contact Us

To schedule or request an appointment with one of our physicians, please call 704-372-7900