Have you ever wondered whether the way you're feeling is an asthma trigger? If you've had asthma symptoms when you've been laughing, crying or experiencing strong emotions, you might be surprised to know it's quite common.
Why do emotions trigger asthma?
Everyone feels emotions such as love, hate, anger, and excitement. Sometimes we react by expressing ourselves: for example, crying when we feel sad or laughing when we feel happy or excited.
Asthma symptoms can be triggered by our emotions, and by the way we express them.
How common is this trigger?
Studies have shown that there's a link between strong emotions, including stress, and asthma symptoms getting worse - 43% of people with asthma tell us that stress is a trigger for their asthma.
GINA (Global initiative for asthma) lists laughter as a main asthma trigger, and the American Thoracic Society did a study which showed that half of its study group had laughter as a trigger for their asthma.
Who is most at risk?
Emotions are not going to be an asthma trigger for everyone all of the time. But you're more at risk of symptoms coming on or getting worse during those times when your emotions are strongest. This could be a time of stress, such as exams, or of excitement, such as a big family wedding or birthday.
Anyone with asthma can find emotions trigger their asthma symptoms, but there are certain groups more at risk:
People whose asthma is not well managed - If you're looking after your asthma well, strong emotions are less likely to trigger asthma symptoms. Your written asthma action plan will help you do this. People whose asthma is not well managed are more at risk from all their triggers, including emotions.
Children - Children react quickly to things going on around them, and are more likely to cry or laugh than adults, often all on the same day. A child can often run around happily one minute and fall over and have a tantrum the next. Strong emotional reactions could trigger asthma symptoms.
Excitement could trigger asthma symptoms, and parents and carers often tell us they're worried about their child around birthday parties or Christmas because in the past they've had asthma symptoms, and even asthma attacks, around exciting events like this.
Teenagers - Teenagers are known for their strong emotional reactions and mood swings. At this age, the part of the brain linked to managing and controlling emotions isn't fully developed, so young people experiencing strong emotions have less ability to control how they react and express them.
Teenagers are also going through big hormonal changes and this can influence how they feel and react. Sometimes this can mean they're more likely to do things such as smoking and drinking - these things also put them at risk of asthma symptoms and asthma attacks.
Women - Women are more likely to have strong emotions influenced by hormones, at times such as pregnancy, menopause or before a period.
How do emotions trigger asthma?
Strong emotions such as fear, excitement or anger can affect the way we breathe. Our breathing might be quicker and less regular and we might take short quick breaths through our mouths. Because this air hasn't passed through our noses, it hasn't been warmed, so it hits our airways while it's dry and cold. This kind of breathing can trigger asthma symptoms for some people.
The same happens when we laugh or cry a lot - the cold, dry air reaches our airways which react with asthma symptoms, such as uncontrollable coughing and a tight chest.
There's a higher risk with uncontrollable laughter or sobbing because our breathing will be even more quick and irregular and we'll be breathing through our mouths. Asthma symptoms can come on very quickly sometimes and could move on to an asthma attack.
How do you know if this is a trigger for you?
Keeping a symptom diary is a useful way to find out if your asthma, or your child's asthma, is being triggered by emotions and emotional reactions. If you notice your asthma is worse when you're upset, angry or excited then make a note of it. You might start to notice a pattern.
Using a written asthma action plan can help you keep an eye on any change in asthma symptoms and tell you what to do when you notice these.
Cut your risk
As with all asthma triggers, your best line of defence is to make sure you're managing your asthma well.
Experiencing emotions is part of life, so we can't avoid them, but we can be aware of them. If you know you're going through an emotional time be aware that it might have an effect on your asthma. Use a written asthma action plan to help you stay on top of your asthma - whatever's going on in your life.
Last updated June 2016
Next review due June 2019