Asthma is a condition in which the airways become inflamed, making it difficult to breathe. Symptoms typically come and go with triggers, such as irritants, humid weather, and exercise.
According to Asthma UK, 43% of people with asthma report that stress can trigger their symptoms. Managing stress and anxiety can help minimize asthma flare-ups.
In this article, we look at the link between stress and asthma in more detail.
Stress and asthma
When a person feels stressed, they may experience more frequent and severe asthma symptoms.
When a person feels stressed, they may notice that their asthma symptoms flare up. Periods of stress can increase the severity, frequency, and duration of asthma symptoms.
Stress can cause people to become more sensitive to their asthma triggers. Common triggers include pet dander, pollen, humidity, and cold, dry air.
Stressors might include work, school, or family stress. Significant life changes and traumatic experiences can also cause stress.
Stress can make inflammation worse, and it can trigger shortness of breath or breathing difficulties, all of which can exacerbate asthma symptoms.
If a person can manage their asthma, they are less likely to experience stress or anxiety related asthma.
Stress can also indirectly cause asthma flare-ups. A person who is stressed may experience certain emotions, such as anger and irritation, more strongly. Strong emotions can trigger asthma symptoms.
A person who experiences stress for prolonged periods may feel more anxious. Anxiety can trigger panic attacks that can, in turn, cause an asthma attack.
People may also sometimes find that stress leads to unhealthful habits, such as smoking or drinking alcohol. These habits can trigger asthma.
Symptoms of stress-induced asthma
People may notice that their normal asthma symptoms worsen when they feel overly stressed or anxious. This feeling can be temporary, such as before an exam, or it can be due to chronic stress, which occurs over an extended period.
Asthma symptoms are similar regardless of the trigger. Common symptoms of asthma include:
- tightness in the chest
- trouble breathing
- rapid breathing
- shortness of breath
Managing stress with asthma
Doing yoga or just focusing on controlling the breath can help manage stress and reduce the likelihood of an asthma attack
People may find relief from asthma symptoms by making some lifestyle changes to help manage their stress levels.
Getting enough rest, eating a healthful diet, and exercising regularly are often effective ways to reduce stress levels.
Stress is most likely to affect asthma when the condition is not under control. People can usually reduce asthma flare-ups by following the treatment plan that a doctor prescribed.
If the current medications are not effective enough, people can visit their doctor to discuss changing or refining their treatment plan.
Some people benefit from taking more of their asthma medication during periods of stress.
The following steps can help people manage their stress and reduce the likelihood of it triggering an asthma attack:
- getting adequate sleep each night
- exercising regularly
- walking away from stressful situations at home, work, or school
- doing yoga or other forms of meditative exercise
- focusing on controlling the breathing
- practicing meditation
- trying counseling
People can usually manage asthma with long-term care and acute treatments. Both measures typically come in the form of an inhaler or nebulizer. The difference is the speed with which they work. People often need to carry a rescue inhaler with them to help treat sudden flare-ups.
Asthma attacks can be life-threatening. If a person has sudden trouble breathing and either does not have a fast acting inhaler or finds that their medication is not effective, they should seek emergency medical help.
A treatment plan that a doctor has recommended can help people prepare for possible asthma attacks. If a person knows their triggers and the symptoms that lead up to an attack, such as coughing or stress, they may be able to take steps to prevent an attack from occurring.
Other triggers of asthma
Grass and tree pollen can trigger asthma flare-ups.
Many different triggers cause asthma symptoms to flare up. People should be aware of the factors that cause flare-ups and avoid them as much as possible.
When it is not possible to avoid a trigger, a person should carry their fast acting inhaler with them for any sudden, unexpected symptoms.
Common asthma triggers include:
- tree pollen
- dust mites
- weed pollen
- animal dander
- strong odors from perfumes, candles, or other scented products
- chemical fumes
- upper respiratory infections
- rigorous exercise
- extreme weather conditions, such as dryness
Stress is both a direct and an indirect trigger of asthma.
Stress can cause a person to experience a flare-up by making them more susceptible to their normal triggers. It can also cause a person to have a flare-up because it leads to strong emotions or unhealthful habits that can trigger an attack.
A person should follow their doctor’s treatment recommendations and take steps to reduce the amount of stress in their life. If symptoms get worse, they should seek immediate medical attention.