For people who live with both anxiety and asthma, these conditions can become very intertwined. Stress and anxiety has been proven to trigger symptoms of asthma. Conversely, experiencing an asthma attack can be extremely frightening and can spur intense anxiety and panic.

As both anxiety and asthma involve similar symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest tightness, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two at times. Sometimes both anxiety and asthma can flare up at the same time. Distinguishing whether breathing difficulties are attributed to asthma or anxiety/panic is imperative in being able to take the appropriate action to manage symptoms. This article will discuss the similarities and differences between an asthma and panic attack, and offer strategies for managing both conditions.

Distinguishing Between An Asthma & Panic Attack

An asthma attack is inflammation and constriction of the bronchial tubes which makes it difficult to breathe. There are many triggers for an asthma attack including pollen, pet dander, exercise, extreme temperatures, upper respiratory infection, and stress or anxiety. During an asthma attack, a person typically experiences symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.

On the other hand, a panic attack typically does not include the presence of wheezing and coughing as an asthma attack would. It is a sudden bout of intense fear that can cause shortness of breath and chest tightness, as well as a variety of other symptoms such as rapid heart rate, dizziness, nausea, sweating or chills, and feelings of losing control. These episodes typically peak within 10 minutes, then begin to subside.

It is crucial to differentiate between an asthma and panic attack to be able to know how to respond. For example, using a rescue inhaler during a panic episode is not going to be effective at resolving symptoms. In fact, many asthma medications actually increase anxiety levels.

The key to reducing the frequency and intensity of asthma and panic attacks is to keep both conditions under control, so that they will not exacerbate the other.

Managing Your Asthma

It is important to keep your asthma in check to enhance your quality of life as well as reduce anxiety about breathing difficulties.

If you continue to experience ongoing symptoms of coughing, wheezing, and/or chest tightness, or are relying on your rescue inhaler more than several times per week, see your doctor. You may need to add a maintenance medication to keep airway inflammation under control. Another factor in managing asthma is reducing exposure to known triggers as much as possible.

Managing Your Anxiety

To cope with anxiety (and in turn, reduce the occurence of asthma attacks), engage in relaxing activities that you enjoy whether it’s meditation, reading, listening to music or spending time with friends and family. Healthy habits such as maintaining a balanced diet, regular exercise, and getting adequate sleep can also have an impact on decreasing anxiety levels.

If you feel unable to control your anxiety and it is negatively impacting your daily functioning, consider reaching out for more support. A mental health professional can help you to establish a treatment plan, whether that includes therapy and/or medication. For more information about anxiety disorders and their symptoms, as well as other mental health disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, and borderline personality disorder, visit Mind Diagnostics:

The Takeaway

Living with both asthma and anxiety can be challenging, as both conditions can aggravate each other, creating a vicious cycle. It can be difficult to determine whether it is asthma or anxiety flaring up at times. However, learning to distinguish the symptoms of each can be helpful for creating a treatment plan. Keeping both anxiety and asthma under control can drastically improve one’s quality of life.

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