Why do emotions trigger asthma?
We all feel emotions such as joy, anger, and excitement, and studies have shown a link between strong emotions and asthma symptoms getting worse.
For example, 43% of people with asthma tell us that stress can be a trigger. Find out more about managing stress when you have asthma.
We also know that depression, panic attacks and grief are linked to asthma symptoms.
Positive emotions can trigger asthma symptoms, too. GINA (Global Initiative for Asthma) lists laughter as a main asthma trigger, and a study by the American Thoracic Society revealed that half of the study group found laughter triggered their symptoms.
Who is most at risk?
Emotions don’t trigger asthma symptoms for everyone, all of the time. But you’re more at risk at times when your emotions are strongest.
This could be when you’re stressed about something like work or exams, have had a fright, or are excited about a wedding, birthday or holiday.
People whose asthma is flaring up
You might notice your symptoms, like tightness in your chest, breathlessness and coughing and wheezing are getting worse, and you may be waking at night because of your asthma. Find out if what to do if your symptoms are getting worse.
When your asthma is well managed, you should be symptom-free, shouldn’t notice your asthma, and you’ll need your reliever inhaler rarely, if at all. See our advice about managing your asthma better.
Strong emotional reactions like laughing and crying could trigger asthma symptoms in children.
Parents and carers often tell us they’re worried about their child around birthdays and Christmas, because they’ve had asthma symptoms around these exciting events in the past.
In teenagers, the part of the brain linked to managing emotions isn’t fully developed, so they have less control over their emotions.
They’re also going through big hormonal changes that can influence their emotions. This may make them more likely to do risky things such as smoking and drinking alcohol, which can trigger asthma symptoms and asthma attacks.
Strong emotions can be influenced by hormones, especially during pregnancy, the menopause or before your period.
Find out how female hormones can trigger asthma and what to do about it.
How do emotions trigger asthma?
Strong emotions can affect the way we breathe. This can trigger asthma symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, finding it hard to catch your breath, or a tight chest. Asthma symptoms may come on very quickly and could turn into an asthma attack without treatment.
- Your breathing might be quicker and less regular if you’re stressed or panicky, or laughing or crying a lot. You might find you’re taking short, deep breaths through your mouth.
- This kind of fast, irregular mouth breathing can trigger asthma symptoms because the air isn’t warmed first by passing through your nose. Instead, it hits your airways while it’s dry and cold.
How can you tell if emotions trigger your asthma?
Keep a symptom diary to help you see what triggers your asthma, or your child’s asthma. If the symptoms are worse when you’re stressed, upset, angry or excited, make a note of it. You might start to see a pattern.
Use a written Asthma Action Plan to keep an eye on any change in your asthma symptoms and know what to do when you notice them.
Cut your risk
As with all asthma triggers, the best way to reduce the risk of your emotions affecting your symptoms is to make sure you’re managing your asthma well.
This means taking your preventer inhaler as prescribed, and making sure you have your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you, especially in situations where you know you might feel emotional.
No one can avoid emotions, but we can be aware of their effect on our asthma. If you’re going through a stressful or emotional time, use your written Asthma Action Plan to help you stay on top of your symptoms – whatever’s going on in your life.
Last updated June 2019
Next review due June 2022