Worried About Asthma and Panic Attacks?

If you suffer from asthma and also have a panic disorder, you probably know that these two conditions can often go hand in hand. Yet have you ever wondered which problem comes first, or what is their relationship? Many researchers have explored the connection over the years but haven't been able to conclusively determine a cause and effect order.

The Connection Between Asthma and Panic Attacks

In the past, the medical community believed that asthma had its roots in psychological factors. Today, however, scientists realize that the truth is much more complicated. The fact is that asthma has an inflammatory nature and it often responds well to medications to address this problem. Yet the latest research also confirms that in addition to the physical component, there could also be an important relationship between asthma and emotional factors, including stress and panic disorders.

Get the Facts About Asthma and Panic Attacks

To better understand asthma and panic attacks and how they're related, Swiss and American researchers examined data from a 21-year study that included information about asthma and panic symptoms among participants. Their findings, which were included in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine in June 2005, confirmed that people with asthma have an increased likelihood of their asthma being followed by a panic disorder, while people with panic disorders are also more likely to experience subsequent asthma symptoms.

The researchers also determined that people with more persistent and severe asthma seem to be at greater risk for serious panic attacks than those with milder respiratory symptoms. In addition, they found people suffering from specific panic disorders were more likely to have a connection with their asthma symptoms than those with more generalized panic issues.

Researchers discovered that certain groups, including smokers, women, people with a family history of allergies and those who suffered from anxiety as a child, seemed to be more prone to the asthma and panic link in adulthood.

Why Asthma and Panic Attacks Go Hand in Hand

Wonder what all this means? The researchers believe that the reasons for the asthma and panic disorder connection can be multi-fold. First, asthmatics may be anxious about the dangerous nature of their symptoms and this can make them prone to experience panic attacks. Second, it's possible that people with panic disorders perceive their asthma symptoms as more serious than their counterparts. Further complicating matters is the fact that panic attacks usually occur along with respiratory symptoms and may cause changes to the breathing pattern, including hyperventilation. This can greatly affect asthma symptoms. Third, some asthma medications can increase anxiety and this anxiety can make asthma worse, causing the patient to need even more medication. This creates a dangerous cycle that's difficult to break.

What You Can Do

More research is needed to get a clearer understanding of how all of these factors come into play. In the meantime, though, if you suffer from asthma and panic attacks, some doctors believe that regardless of which comes first, performing breathing exercises, or even participating in some type of breathing retraining program can be an effective way to relieve your symptoms. You can talk to your doctor about whether this might be helpful for your specific situation. If so, you might want to start doing yoga and other relaxation exercises that incorporate breathing techniques as part of their approach. Other alternative techniques such as massage and acupuncture may also be worth exploring.

Just keep in mind that even if you try new strategies to get the asthma and panic attack connection in check, it's still important to continue taking your asthma medications as directed and to follow your asthma management plan so you don't have to worry about taking any unnecessary risks.


American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine