Asthma and Anxiety: Similarities, Differences, and Management

Without treatment and management, anxiety may lead to poor asthma control, and asthma may increase your symptoms of anxiety. It’s important to recognize the differences, while also getting treatments that can help you manage each condition.

Medical treatments for asthma and anxiety

Asthma and anxiety treatments involve different medications. Depending on your own situation, you may need multiple treatments to help you manage your condition(s).

Asthma may be treated with:

  • a quick-relief inhaler to manage/prevent an asthma attack
  • a nebulizer, especially in children
  • oral, inhaled, or intravenous (IV) corticosteroids
  • inhaled anticholinergics
  • leukotriene modifiers
  • biologic injections
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), though more research is needed

Anxiety is treated with a combination of:

  • talk therapy (psychotherapy), such as CBT
  • anti-anxiety medications
  • antidepressants
  • beta-blockers

Other treatments

You shouldn’t replace any prescribed medications for alternative treatments, but certain complementary therapies can help you manage asthma and anxiety.

Breathing exercises are a mainstay of pulmonary rehabilitation techniques for lung diseases such as asthma. By retraining the way you breathe, you may be able to improve overall lung function and subsequent asthma symptoms.

The American Lung Association recommends practicing the following exercises each day, for 5 to 10 minutes at a time:

  • Belly/diaphragmatic breathing. With your hands on your stomach, breathe in and out through your nose. Feel how your stomach rises on the inhalation, and falls on each exhalation. Exhale up to two to three times longer than your inhalation. Keep your shoulders and neck relaxed during the process.
  • Pursed lip breathing. To complete this exercise, breathe in through your nose, and then exhale through your mouth, keeping your lips pursed. As with belly breathing, your exhalation should be at least two times longer than your inhalation.

Mindful breathing patterns may also help you see improvements in anxiety-induced asthma. If you feel anxiety or stress coming on, consider a 7-7-7 breathing technique, where you:

  1. Inhale for 7 counts (seconds).
  2. Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  3. Exhale for another 7.

Regular exercise, rest, and a healthy diet may also improve anxiety-induced asthma.

Aerobic exercise may be particularly helpful for anxiety symptoms, but it’s important to choose activities that won’t exacerbate your asthma. Some of the best choices for exercise-induced asthma (EIA) include swimming, walking, and biking.