Manage your depression

If you can get support to deal with your depression, you're more likely to stick to your asthma medicines and avoid asthma symptoms.

What is depression?

Can depression make your asthma worse?

Is your asthma making you depressed?

The asthma-depression cycle

Top tips to break the asthma-depression cycle

Is depression a side effect of asthma medicines?

Treatments for depression

What is depression?

Everyone feels down at times, but if you have depression, these feelings go on for longer and start to have an effect on your life.

You might feel sad, tearful, or irritable. Sometimes people have low self-esteem or feel they can’t get any enjoyment from life.

You may have physical symptoms too like finding it hard to sleep, or changes to your appetite.

It’s important to see your GP if you think you might be depressed.

You can also visit our support page for a list of organisations that can help.

Can depression make your asthma worse?

Doing what you can to keep emotionally well is important for you, and for your asthma, because how you feel can affect your asthma.

It’s quite common for people to have more asthma symptoms when they’re depressed, anxious or stressed.

Is your asthma making you depressed?

Asthma symptoms and attacks can be frightening, and exhausting, especially if you’re new to asthma, or if you experience regular or severe symptoms.

And it can sometimes cause problems in other areas of life, too, like at work or school if you need to take time off because of symptoms being worse or asthma attacks.

So, it’s no wonder that some people with asthma, particularly if it’s severe, feel depressed.

In fact, research suggests that depression may be more common in people with asthma, and is worse if you’re asthma isn’t well controlled.

The asthma-depression cycle

Depression may make it feel harder to look after your asthma properly. Then as your symptoms get worse, you may feel more depressed, and find it harder to get on top of your mood, and your asthma.

The good news is there are ways for you to break this cycle so that you can feel more confident and happier all round.

Top tips to break the asthma-depression cycle

1. Tell your GP or asthma nurse how you’re feeling. They can talk to you about talking therapies and whether you’d benefit from some medicines for your depression. They can also give you advice if you’re thinking of complementary therapies like massage or meditation to help with symptoms of depression. Some people find these helpful.   

2. Talk to your GP or asthma nurse about any asthma symptoms you’re having. You can also get your inhaler technique checked and make sure your written asthma action plan is up to date.

3. Think of small steps to help lift your mood. For example, you could call a friend, go for a walk, do something you enjoy doing but haven’t done for a while, or find a group activity you like the sound of. Get more ideas from the NHS.

4. Share your feelings with other people who have asthma by joining our HealthUnlocked community. It could make you feel less alone. 

Is depression a side effect of your asthma medicines?

 “Talk to your GP or asthma nurse as soon as possible if you’re experiencing any side effects from your asthma medicines,” says Dr Andy Whittamore. “They may be able to adjust the dose or support you in managing the side effects.”

Asthma preventer and reliever inhalers

You’re unlikely to experience depression as a side effect of your usual preventer and reliever medicines.

Steroid tablets

If you need to take from high dose steroid tablets, particularly if you have to take them for longer than three weeks, you may experience side effects, including depression.

“Remember that steroid tablets can be lifesaving and will only be prescribed if your GP, asthma nurse or consultant thinks that the benefits outweigh the risks,” says Dr Andy. “Don’t be tempted to stop taking them early - you may end up needing higher doses of steroids in the long run. Talk to your GP first.”

Montelukast 

Montelukast is a leukotriene receptor antagonist (LTRA). It’s been linked to side effects like depression and anxiety. But these are not common, affecting between 1 in 100 to 1 in 1000 people. If you notice any changes in your mood, or your child’s mood or behaviour, see your GP as soon as possible. 

“There is also a very rare potential side effect of suicidal thinking, that affects fewer than 1 in 10,000 people,” says Dr Andy. “If you do get this side effect, stop taking the medicine immediately and talk to your GP or asthma nurse as soon as possible.”

Treatments for depression

If you think you're depressed see you GP so you can get the right diagnosis, and the right treatments, for the kind of depression you have.

GPs will use different approaches depending on whether your depression is diagnosed as mild, moderate or severe.

There are lots of different treatment options for depression. For example:

  • talking therapies like CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). Sometimes this is offered online.
  • support groups
  • exercise therapy
  • anti-depressant medicines

Taking anti-depressants

Even if you’re prescribed anti-depressants, they’ll work best if you’re also having counselling or other kinds of talking therapy such as CBT. The medicine can relieve the symptoms of depression, while talking therapies can help you with the causes of your depression over the longer term. And support you in managing your emotional well-being going forward.

There are lots of different anti-depressants licensed for use in the UK. You can find out about each one, and their side effects and cautions on the NHS choices website.

Whenever you're starting to take a new medicine you should always talk to your GP or a pharmacist about any medicines you're already taking, including any for your asthma.

There might be some anti-depressants you need to avoid. For example, the anti-depressant fluvoxamine is not recommended for someone taking the asthma medicine theophylline.

There's no evidence yet that can specifically state which anti-depressant would be best for someone with asthma.  However, there's such a wide range of depression medicines and treatments available so your GP will be able to find one that suits you.

St John’s Wort

You might have come across St John's Wort as a complementary treatment for mild depression. This is a herbal treatment available over the counter from chemists or health food shops.

Although some people have used St John's Wort and found it helpful it isn't recommended by NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence). This is because it could react badly with other drugs, and because doses and strengths of the different products sold can vary.

“Ask your GP or pharmacist for advice before taking any herbal or over-the-counter medicines,” says Dr Andy. “Just because a medicine is 'natural' or available over the counter doesn't mean it's always safe - it could interact with other medicines you're taking. For example, St John's Wort can reduce the effectiveness of theophylline.”

Need more support?

You can also call the Asthma UK Helpline to speak to one of our friendly asthma nurse specialists on 0300 222 5800 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm). Or message them via WhatsApp on 07378 606 728

We also have advice if you're dealing with anxiety.


 

Last updated January 2020

Next review due January 2023