It’s estimated that as many as 40 million adults in the U.S. experience anxiety and 25 million suffer from asthma. Unfortunately, anxiety can trigger asthma symptoms making it difficult to know whether it’s anxiety causing an asthma attack or vice versa. Therefore, it’s important that you understand the relation between the two and how to tell the difference between anxiety and asthma.
Which Symptoms do Asthma and Anxiety Share?
While anxiety can manifest multiple symptoms, the symptoms that most closely mirror an asthma attack are breathing difficulties. Sometimes, when people experience stress, the body reacts with what is commonly known as a “panic attack.” The heart starts racing airways constrict, and they find themselves gasping for air. At the very least, steady breathing becomes impossible.
How Can You Tell a Difference Between Anxiety and Asthma?
Since both anxiety and asthma affect breathing patterns, it can be hard to determine if you are suffering a life-threatening asthma episode or if medical attention is required.
Well-meaning people will often tell you to “just breathe” in response to either kind of attack, and therein lies the primary difference between anxiety and asthma. Since asthma is a lung condition, people with asthma can’t “just breathe.” Their lungs effectively “shut down” and they cannot draw in air. Asthma medication or an inhaler is often needed for recovery.
When a person has difficulty breathing due to an anxiety attack, they can “just breathe,” even if it’s erratic. It may take work and concentration, but their lungs haven’t shut down. The body is simply reacting to stress.
Simple Ways to Manage Your Anxiety
While anxiety often shows in altered breathing patterns, it can present additional symptoms such as an increased heart rate, nausea, dizziness, sweating, and fatigue.
While it is impossible to entirely “prevent” anxiety attacks, you can be on guard against them by employing the following tips.
1. Breathe Deeply
If you feel yourself getting stressed out, force yourself to inhale and exhale slowly before breathing becomes overly difficult.
2. Force Your Muscles to Relax
The body naturally tenses when things get stressful. Concentrate on relaxing each muscle individually. Schedule a massage or a visit to the chiropractor.
3. Close Your Eyes and Focus
Focus on something other than the stress. Think about what makes you happy, or simply divert your mind to a less-stressful topic in order to manage stress.
How to Manage Your Asthma
Stress and anxiety are actually asthma triggers. However, since asthma can trigger anxiety, it’s best if you avoid other asthma triggers so you can prevent attacks from any source. Common asthma triggers include exercise, smoke, allergies, pets, dust, mold, and more.
Take care of your asthma by doing the following things.
1. Talk to Your Doctor
Communicate with your doctor regularly regarding asthma flare-ups, anxiety attacks, symptoms, triggers, etc. Follow the recommended asthma treatment plan prescribed for you. Ask for additional medical advice if you suffer from an anxiety disorder as well as asthma.
2. Track Your Triggers
3. Do Your Best to Stay Calm in Stressful situations
Whether you suffer from asthma, anxiety, or both, it is important to remain calm, relaxed and focused in all situations. Not only does this help you avoid attacks of any kind, but it is also beneficial to your overall health.
Common Questions About Anxiety & Asthma
Here are the answers to some common questions about anxiety and asthma.
1. Does anxiety affect asthma?
Anxiety does play a role in asthma symptoms. It can cause a worsening of symptoms, most commonly through the shortness of breath.
2. What are some questions about anxiety?
Talk to your doctor about any anxiety you may be feeling. A few good things to ask your doctor are:
- Which treatment options are available for dealing with anxiety?
- What are the side effects of anxiety treatments?
- Can other medical problems be the cause of anxiety issues?
3. What are good questions to ask about asthma?
If you have been diagnosed with asthma, it is important to learn all you can about the symptoms and treatment of it. Since this is a potentially life-changing diagnosis, take some time to discuss the following with your doctor.
- How can the risk of an asthma attack be reduced?
- How should I handle an asthma attack?
- Are there ways to monitor my asthma?
- Can an inhaler help with my asthma?
4. Which factors can trigger asthma?
Asthma attacks can be triggered by allergens. Each person should learn what triggers their asthma attacks and how to avoid exposure as best as possible. Some of the most common triggers are pollen, animal dander, and smoke or chemical fumes.
5. Can I use an inhaler for anxiety?
While it may not be a primary method for dealing with anxiety, using a rescue inhaler is an option for dealing with an anxiety attack. Talk with your doctor before doing so.