Asthma is a major disease that affects both children and adults. It is estimated to affect about 262 million people per year, and can negatively affect the quality of life. If you are an asthmatic reading this, you know about the sleep disturbances, poor concentration in school or work, and the financial impact of asthma.
Apart from the physical and financial burden, asthma can also affect a person psychologically. Since it is a chronic illness, you can develop depression, anxiety, and panic disorder. All these conditions can aggravate difficulty in breathing, which is a prominent symptom of asthma.
But do not worry – this article will give you practical tips on how to cope with the anxiety induced by asthma so that you can live a better quality life.
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition wherein your airways are “hyperreactive.” This means that the lining of your airways is particularly reactive to certain triggers.
When triggered, the airway not only constricts but also produces more mucus, making it difficult to breathe. Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are common symptoms of asthma. For some people, these attacks might be a nuisance at most; however, some people can experience debilitating symptoms that can prove to be life-threatening.
While there is no cure for asthma, medications are available to control the symptoms. Collaborating closely with your doctor will definitely help in not only managing your symptoms but also improving your day-to-day life.
Here are the most common asthma symptoms1:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness or chest pain
- Sleep disturbances due to shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
- Coughing or wheezing attacks that are aggravated by viral illnesses such as the flu
These are the symptoms that you most commonly encounter. Be on the lookout for signs that your condition may be worsening, such as asthma attacks that happen more frequently, increased difficulty of breathing, and using quick-relief medication more often. Keep track of these, using a notebook or our app, and definitely share them with your doctor.
What Causes Asthma?
Numerous elements have been linked to asthma, but its exact cause is unknown. Factors such as the following greatly increase the risk of developing asthma:
- Family members who have asthma
- People with allergic conditions such as eczema and rhinitis
- Urbanization has contributed to increased asthma prevalence, most likely due to lifestyle factors
- Low birth weight, prematurity, exposure to tobacco smoke, and other sources of air pollution
- Environmental allergens like outdoor air pollution, dust mites, and molds
- Occupational hazards such as exposure to chemicals, toxic fumes, or dust
While you cannot change certain risk factors, such as your genes and allergies, you can address some of these risk factors.
Engage in a healthy lifestyle by eating a varied and nutritious diet with regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight. Avoid smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke whenever possible. Maintain a clean and dust-free environment. Wear protective equipment, when needed, to lessen exposure to occupational hazards. All these will not only greatly reduce your risk of asthma, but other diseases as well.
Living With Asthma
Since there is no cure, it is important to have a plan that will effectively manage your symptoms and allow you to enjoy life. Here are steps you can take to live harmoniously with asthma as well as prevent recurrent attacks:
- Follow your asthma action plan – This is a detailed plan on how to manage your symptoms as well as when to take your medications. Ideally, this should have been thoroughly discussed by your doctor and the rest of your healthcare team.
- Get vaccinated for influenza, pneumonia, and COVID-19 – Keeping up to date with your vaccinations will prevent these diseases from triggering flare-ups.
- Avoid triggers and treat attacks early – The severity of an attack can be drastically reduced if you act immediately. Become aware of the irritants that trigger your asthma and avoid them as much as possible.
- Monitor your breathing – People living with asthma for a while might be able to recognize an impending attack. It is important to pay attention to your breathing and notice any coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath.
- Take your medication as prescribed – Follow your doctor’s orders explicitly and do not change medications without consultation. During each visit to your doctor, make sure to accurately describe your symptoms.
This can be a lot to take in, especially for those who are newly diagnosed with asthma. It can trigger a lot of feelings, among them anxiety. This can make your asthma symptoms worse and may even trigger a flare-up. It may initially be difficult, but there are some things you can do to help cope with the anxiety associated with asthma.
Coping With Anxiety about Asthma
Asthma can be upsetting. For some people, it could just be a nuisance in your day-to-day life but for others, it can be a constant threat to life. Worry and stress add an additional emotional burden to the physical symptoms of asthma. The relationship between asthma and anxiety is complex Here are the ways that anxiety could affect your asthma:
- Hyperventilation – When you are anxious, your breathing becomes faster and shallower, lessening the amount of oxygen that reaches vital organs. Those with anxiety may be more prone to hyperventilating so this could be triggering an asthma attack.
- Inflammation – Stress places your body in a state of inflammation. While stress alone is unlikely to trigger the airway inflammation seen in asthma, being stressed can make it harder to control flare-ups when they do occur.
- Changes in the body – Anxiety triggers the release of histamine, the chemical that triggers allergies. This can consequently lead to asthma attacks. When you are stressed, your immune system is also down, making you more susceptible to viruses and external triggers.
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Steps to Ease the Anxiety
Dealing with the physical and emotional burden of asthma can be difficult and overwhelming. While anxiety is a different condition altogether, it cannot be denied there are some symptoms that overlap. As such, here are some of the things you can do to ease your anxiety about asthma:
- Talk to your doctor about how you are feeling. It is natural to worry about your symptoms, and even struggle with their management. By being honest with your doctor, you will be able to get the holistic care that you need.
- Journaling may help calm a scattered mind. Taking time to pause and write down how you are feeling can prove to be both cathartic and calming
- Keep your plan up to date. As previously mentioned, make sure to describe your symptoms to your doctor accurately. Based on this, they can adjust your treatment. Incorrect inhaler use or inappropriate dosage are factors that may interfere with and even prolong treatment.
- Confide with a close friend or family member about how you feel. Sometimes, having a trusted person just listen to our struggles is a huge help in itself.
While these tips do not replace medical advice, they will hopefully aid in lessening the burden of asthma.
Keeping Track of Cough
Symptoms can change over time. The only way to assess your condition is to monitor your symptoms. Share any concerns you might have with your doctor if you notice your symptoms worsening.
- Patadia, M. O., Murrill, L. L., & Corey, J. (2014). Asthma: symptoms and presentation. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America, 47(1), 23-32.