Imagine a condition where you have a blocked nose or finished an intense exercise. Which feeling crosses your mind? Yes, it’s difficulty in breathing. Just the idea of not being able to breathe can be disturbing for many and may even trigger anxiety.

Now imagine a condition where you have limited control over your breathing due to inflamed airways. If you have asthma you know how this feeling can be frightening. Besides, there are a number of triggers, such as pollen or dust, which may initiate wheezing and shortness of breath. 

And the stress of a coming attack can cause anxiety, which can further trigger an asthma exacerbation, resulting in a hellish cycle of anxiety-related breathlessness. This relationship between asthma and anxiety may seem like a difficult situation to control. 

However, understanding both these conditions and how they affect each other can help you be aware of your triggers and implement practices that help you avoid exacerbations. So, let us understand more about both these conditions and how to deal with them to prevent future flare-ups.

What is An Asthma Attack?

Asthma is caused by constriction and inflammation of your airways, making it difficult for you to breathe. This results in tightness of the chest, cough, and wheezing.

During an asthma attack, the airways constrict further, resulting in severe breathlessness. During an asthma flare-up, you may have a rattling sensation in the chest. Depending on the intensity of your asthma attack, your symptoms may last for several minutes or hours, or even days.

An asthma attack is caused by triggers that irritate your lungs. Some of them are:

  • Chemicals such as smoke, perfume, or cleaning products
  • Extreme cold or heat
  • Allergens such as animal dander, pollen, and dust mites
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Food allergies
  • Upper respiratory infections

Quick-acting inhalers can help in reducing your symptoms and stop the attack. But if your symptoms get worse, you may need to seek emergency medical attention.

What Is Anxiety and Panic Attack?

Anxiety is a feeling of fear or worry about a specific situation. Everyone feels anxiety at some point in their lives, and it is a common reaction to stress. But if you are so overwhelmed that you cannot carry out daily activities, you may have an anxiety disorder.

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A panic attack, a type of anxiety disorder, is a feeling of extreme terror where there is no danger in real life. It is a bout of severe anxiety that comes suddenly. For instance, you can have a panic attack if you think you may have a heart attack. Women are twice as likely to get a panic attack as men.

Some symptoms of a panic attack are:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Hot flashes
  • Tingling hands or feet
  • Chills or sweating
  • A feeling of being detached from your surrounding
  • Fear of dying

Many asthma patients also experience panic attacks, and they often occur together. So, a panic attack is often a common symptom of asthma

But why does asthma cause a panic attack? Asthma attacks are frightening. In asthma, your airways in the lungs inflame, which narrows them and makes you feel terrified. Moreover, anxiety about a future asthma attack may even trigger one and also cause a panic attack.

Asthma & Anxiety Differences 

Asthma and anxiety both can cause a feeling of tightness in your chest and breathing difficulties. 

But the main difference is that hyperventilation during a panic attack increases oxygen flow, while constriction during an asthma attack reduces your oxygen intake.

Besides, wheezing and coughing are mainly associated with asthma attacks. And people with anxiety attacks may have symptoms beyond breathlessness.

Recognizing the difference between these conditions will help you and your doctor create an effective treatment plan. For instance, medications, such as bronchodilators, used to manage asthma worsen your anxiety.

Stress as The Common Risk Factor

Stress can be a significant contributing factor to asthma and anxiety. Studies have shown that stress can trigger an asthma flare-up. About 69% of asthma patients have stress as a triggering factor.

During asthma, your body releases stress hormones that prepare you for a fight-or-flight response. Your body responds to these hormones with shallow and fast breathing, faster heart rate, and tense muscles. All these changes may result in an asthma attack.

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Moreover, constant stress may cause you to drink or smoke more or be angry in an effort to relax. These actions further trigger asthma, especially if asthma is not well managed.

Anxiety emerged as the most important risk factor for cardiovascular diseases including, hypertension heart attack and stroke. Thus, managing anxiety is of vital importance in patience have symptoms of cardiovascular diseases.

Symptoms of Stress-Induced Asthma

If you have asthma, you may notice that its symptoms are worse when your anxious or overly stressed. This can be temporary, for instance, before an exam, or long-term due to chronic stress.

Asthma symptoms are similar despite the trigger. Some common symptoms include:

  • Wheezing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Coughing
  • Tightness of the chest
  • Breathlessness
  • Difficulty in breathing

Causes of Stress-Induced Asthma

Some common stressful events that may trigger an asthma attack are:

  • Relationship problems
  • School exams
  • Exposure to violence
  • Family conflict
  • Financial issues
  • Public speaking
  • Public disasters
  • Any significant life-changing event

Asthma Management 

Managing asthma will make a difference in your airway function as well as the quality of life. The anxiety that builds-up during or before an asthma attack may result in panic attacks.  So, experiencing fewer symptoms can lower your stress about the condition. Stress is more likely to affect you if your condition is not under control. 

You can usually avoid flare-ups by following the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor. An asthma attack is generally managed with quick-acting medications, such as your rescue inhaler. If you feel that, despite the medications, your symptoms are not under control, you can discuss the same with your doctor, and they will help to refine the treatment plan

Some indications that suggest that you may need to visit the doctor are:

  • Troubled sleep due to symptoms
  • Difficulty exercising without breathlessness and wheezing
  • You are wheezing more frequently
  • You experience frequent chest tightness and sleeping
  • You need to take a rescue inhaler more than a few times a week

Besides, many people also benefit from taking asthma medication during stress. 

Even if you do not have an anxiety disorder, stress is a fact of life. So, it is essential to manage it the best you can. You can also take the following steps to manage their stress and prevent the risk of an asthma attack:

  • Regular physical exercise
  • Get adequate sleep, at least seven to eight hours a night
  • Reduce the intake of caffeine and alcohol
  • Making time for doing activities outside of work and socializing
  • If possible, move away from a stressful situation
  • Meditate as it helps in controlling your breath and quietens your mind
  • You can also try tai chi or yoga
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If the mentioned self-management techniques are not helpful, you can talk to your doctor about cognitive behavioral therapy. Also, antianxiety and stress-management medications may help to manage stress and anxiety. 


If you have asthma, your doctor will generally prescribe acute treatment and long-term care. Both these measures are typically available in the form of a nebulizer or an inhaler. The difference lies in the speed with which they work. Most patients need to carry a rescue inhaler to treat an asthma attack.

These acute flare-ups may be life-threatening. If you cannot find your fast-acting inhaler or have sudden breathing trouble, you should seek emergency medical help.

An asthma action plan recommended by your doctor will help you prepare for possible flare-ups. If you know your symptoms and triggers that lead up to an attack, such as coughing and stress, you will be able to take steps to prevent the asthma attack.

Final Thoughts

While asthma and anxiety attacks have certain similarities, overall, they have different symptoms. But it is possible that you may experience asthma and anxiety at the same time, which may make it difficult for you to distinguish between them.

Knowing about these conditions will help you understand which of your symptoms belongs to either condition. This will help you and your doctor manage your condition better.

Besides, stress is a common risk factor for both panic and asthma attacks. You can try stress management techniques, such as adequate sleep and exercise, to prevent or lower the frequency of these attacks.

If you get frequent asthma and panic attacks, it may be possible that you need additional treatment options. So, track your symptoms and discuss with your doctor so that you get the right treatment.

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