Stress seems to have taken over every aspect of our lives. With longer working hours and lesser time to sleep, we are pushing our body like never before. What we often tend to ignore is the huge impact such levels of stress has on our health. Asthma is one such price we may end up paying for our stress. Being a chronic lung disease, there is one form of asthma that can be triggered or set off by stress. Stress-induced asthma is a condition in which the airways become inflamed and narrowed.

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What is Stress-induced Asthma?

Stress is known to be a common trigger for asthma. When you suffer from stress and you have asthma as well, then in situations of high stress, you might begin to feel shortness of breath, panicky, and even anxious. Stress can cause a flare-up of your asthma symptoms or it may cause your symptoms to worsen even. This kind of asthma onset is known as stress-induced asthma.

The reason why stress can cause an asthma incidence is that stress affects not just your mind, but it affects all the systems of the body. Cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, immune, central nervous system and even the gastrointestinal system gets affected by stress. In people who have asthma, stress is known to create a major physiological reaction, causing the airways to become constricted. This causes certain changes in your immune system, which further worsens your asthma symptoms.

Many studies have shown that there is a clear connection between stress, feeling anxious and asthma. Doctors believe that when the body experiences any form of uncontrolled emotions, a common manifestation of stressful conditions, it causes the nerves to get worked up and thus causes the muscles of the airways to become constricted. Once the airways in the lungs become constricted, they tighten up. This causes a worsening of asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and a feeling of tightness in the chest.

You may think that stress is a psychological phenomenon and can have no physical impact on the body. But, the fact is that stress-induced asthma is indeed a reality and not a psychosomatic condition. You may feel that stress is just a condition in your head, but this very stress can cause asthmatic symptoms if you already suffer from the condition. However, keep in mind that if you do not already suffer from asthma, it is highly unlikely that stress alone will cause anyone to suddenly develop asthma.

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Does Stress-Induced Asthma Actually Exist?

Does Stress-Induced Asthma Actually Exist?

A study conducted at the University of Wisconsin, United States, found that there are some specific areas of the brain are responsible for worsening the symptoms of asthma when an individual is under stress. The study reached this conclusion by exposing a group of participants who had moderate to mild asthma to certain triggers that caused muscle construction as well as inflammation. Once the symptoms flared-up, the participants were shown words that were emotionally charged or words which were neutral. Even asthma-related words were shown to the participants and they were made to read them out loud. The study concluded that the asthma-related words actually increased the level of inflammation and activity in the regions of the brain that controls your emotions. They were successful in establishing a likely link between asthma and our emotions. While there is still more research that needs to be done in order to establish a deeper link between our emotions and asthma flare-ups, it is likely that managing stress and treating asthma with medication should keep your symptoms under control.

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How to Determine If You Have Stress-induced Asthma?

When you suffer from asthma, you are likely to know when you are having a flare-up and what the triggers are. When it comes to the stress, it is not going to be difficult to recognize the triggers. You usually know what things and situations make you stressed. However, often it happens that we are unable to connect a stressful event to asthma symptoms. Consider the following:

  • If you feel that your stress levels have increased lately, look at whether or not your asthma's gotten worse as well.
  • Or, if you notice that your asthma has gotten worse, consider if you have been under a lot of stress and if such a stressful situation could be causing a flare-up of your asthma.
  • By keeping a record of stressful moments in your life along with a track of your symptoms, you will be able to establish if there is a pattern between the two.

Differentiating Between Stress-induced Asthma and a Panic Attack

Often times, the symptoms of a panic attack also mimic those of stress-induced asthma. So how do you differentiate one from the other? As they share many similar symptoms it is indeed difficult to differentiate them, particularly when the person is experiencing an attack. However, it is possible.

If you suffer from asthma, you should consult your doctor regarding a peak flow meter which you can keep at home. This helps you determine if your shortness of breath is happening due to an asthma flare-up or attack. Asthma is a serious condition and it is necessary that you treat an asthma attack before it becomes more serious or life-threatening.

A doctor is a correct person to help you understand and determine if your symptoms are being caused due to a panic attack or asthma.

Can Stress-induced Asthma Get Worse With treatment?

If you suffer from persistent asthma, meaning you experience asthma symptoms more than once or twice in a week, then treatment will require long-term therapy such as inhaled corticosteroids combined with rescue therapy during a flare-up. During a flare-up, anti-inflammatory drugs such as oral steroid prednisolone may also become necessary. However, the main issue here is that the medication prednisolone is known to cause mood swings and further feelings of anxiety, thus increasing a patient's stress levels. This scenario can actually make your symptoms worse.

There is no cause for long-term concern though because prednisolone is only prescribed as a short-term treatment. Once this prescription course of oral steroids finishes and the patient goes back to the maintenance therapy being used such as inhaled steroids, the mood swings and anxiety will taper off.

Treatment for Stress-induced Asthma

There is no cure for asthma, so you simply need to manage your symptoms. If you suffer from stress-induced asthma, the treatment involves a two-fronted management of both your asthma symptoms as well as your stress levels.

For treating asthma, your doctor will prescribe medications which will be divided into long-term controllers and quick relievers. Quick relievers come in handy when you are experiencing an attack. Both types of medications need to be taken through an inhaler, though some are also available in pill form. If the attack is severe, then you may need to take the medication in injection form.

Avoiding stress is one of the biggest ways of managing stress-induced asthma. You can follow the following tips to manage your stress levels:

  • Remove yourself from any stressful situation that causes you to feel anxious and panicky.
  • Try meditation. It can help calm down your mind and also teach you to control your breathing.
  • Learn some breathing techniques that will help you manage your reaction to a stressful situation.
  • Regular exercise is a great stress buster.
  • Get proper sleep as being well rested will make it easier to manage your day to day stress levels.

Conclusion

If you are experiencing any trouble breathing, then your doctor would be the right person to advise you on whether you have stress-induced asthma or it is simply a panic reaction to high-stress levels in your life. Stress-induced asthma is very real and if you don’t manage your stress levels, it is likely to worsen your asthma symptoms.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: September 7, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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