Stress and Asthma
When stress levels go up, asthma symptoms can go into overdrive. What’s the link, and how can asthma and anxiety be managed?
The Brain's Impact on Asthma and Stress continued...
Researchers exposed a group of people with mild asthma to triggers that
caused both inflammation and muscle constriction. When symptoms flared, the
participants were asked to read words that were either emotionally charged,
such as "lonesome"; neutral, such as "curtains"; or
asthma-related, such as "wheezing."
They found that the words linked with asthma increased inflammation and
activity in parts of the brain that control emotions.
The results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Science, show a possible link between emotions and asthma. Although it's only
preliminary research, it does start to connect the dots. Until researchers find
a clear link between anxiety and asthma, keep symptoms in check by managing stress and treating asthma with
When Treatment Makes Asthma and Stress Worse
Persistent asthma means you have symptoms more than once a week, but not
constantly. Treating persistent asthma requires long-term maintenance therapy,
such as an inhaled corticosteroid, plus rescue therapy when something triggers
symptoms. And when your symptoms are out of control, an anti-inflammatory, such
as the oral steroid prednisone, might be necessary.
The problem is that prednisone can cause mood swings as a side effect, adding
fuel to the anxiety fire.
"The good news is that prednisone is only a short-term treatment,"
explains Kelkar. "When a course of oral steroids ends, a person should go
back to a long-term maintenance therapy like inhaled steroids, which do not
have an impact on mood and anxiety."
Sometimes a long-term asthma medication doesn't work
well, and wheezing and chest tightness occurs all too often. Then, a vicious
circle can begin, where anxiety worsens asthma, and asthma worsens anxiety,
The solution is to talk to a health-care provider about your symptoms,
triggers, and stress. Also discuss other treatment options that can help get
your asthma under control again.
Managing Asthma and Anxiety
"There are numerous stress-reduction techniques, ranging from meditation, yoga, and Pilates to jogging, listening to music,
and hobbies," says Rosch. "You have to find out what works best for
Here are stress-reduction tips from the Cleveland Clinic. They can help you
make anxiety one less asthma trigger for you to worry
- Keep your mind free of stressful thoughts. Use the power of positive
thinking to keep your mind going in the right direction. When you feel anxious
about something, try to stay positive. How you think and what you think both
play a role in managing stress levels.
- Identify your stressors. What stresses you out? Is it money, your
mother-in-law, a hectic lifestyle? Once you know what your stress triggers are,
work on resolving them. If you can't do it on your own, get help from a
professional. This might be a financial counselor, psychologist, or family
therapist. Link your health-care providers together, as well. Let your
allergist know that stress is a trigger, so she or he can keep your anxiety in
mind when treating your symptoms.
- Don't try to do it all. Manage your time wisely. Don't cram two days' worth
of errands into one day. If you know you need to get everything done before a
deadline, delegate so you can take some time for yourself. With more hands
pitching in, you can avoid being overburdened.
- Say ohm. Practicing relaxation exercises can help lessen the negative
effects of stress and asthma. Try deep breathing, progressive muscle
relaxation, and clearing negative thoughts.
- Eat right and exercise. Exercise is a great way
to let go of stress. Also, eat right and avoid junk food, coffee, and soda --
which can make you feel drained after the sugar-high and caffeine effects wear
off. This can help your overall health, give you more energy to combat stress,
and put you in a better position to manage
- Get by with a little help from your friends and family. When it comes to
asthma and anxiety, no one should go it alone. Having support from your loved
ones can help you tackle stressful situations. They can provide an emotional
hand when things get tough as well as offer friendly reminders when it's time
to take your medication.
- Get a good night's sleep. Sleep helps you recharge
your batteries -- physically, emotionally, and even cognitively -- according to
the National Sleep Foundation. Without a solid night's sleep, mood, behavior,
and performance can be affected, and so can asthma.