Asthma and Mental Health

What is asthma?

Asthma is a common chronic disease that affects around 300 million people around the world, making it one of the leading non-communicable medical conditions around the globe.

It is characterized by a chronic inflammation of the airways, which are the tubes that carry the air that we breathe to our lungs. When these airways get inflamed, the tubes become narrower, which makes it difficult for the air to come out, causing difficulty to breath.  

Asthma attack

Sometimes asthma symptoms can suddenly get worse and cause the so-called asthma attack. This can happen suddenly or gradually over days. Some symptoms that can appear during an asthma attack include severe wheezing or coughing; shortness of breath; feeling a tightness, pain or pressure in the chest; becoming tired from doing daily activities such as speaking, sleeping or eating; persistence of symptoms despite the use of regular medication; breathing faster; feeling dizzy; faiting; having blue lips; having a pale or sweaty face. 

Symptoms of asthma

The main symptoms of asthma include:

  • Wheeze: a whistling sound that appears when breathing, most commonly when exhaling (when pushing the air out);
  • Coughing: which can happen anytime and also cause you to wake up during the night;
  • Shortness of breath: which can make you feel like you cannot catch your breath and breath faster;
  • Tight chest: feeling like there is a weight tightening around your chest.

Impact of having asthma on mental health

Asthma can lead to negative impacts on many life domains, including personal relationships, employment and social life, resulting in a poor quality of life. Therefore, asthma can have a negative impact on people’s mental health. In fact, asthma is associated with anxiety and depression to such an extent that people with asthma are six times more likely to have anxiety or depression compared to people who do not have asthma.


Asthma symptoms - coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath - can be overwhelming in the long term and become a burden, which together with the fear of having asthma attacks, can lead to anxiety. Around 30% of asthma patients have anxiety, which is related to worse asthma control, poorer quality of life, higher use of emergency services and more asthma attacks. 

Social anxiety

Social anxiety is characterized by a great fear of social situations that causes negative effects in someone’s life. In the context of asthma, feeling different from others, the fear of being rejected or of having worse social abilities, can lead to social anxiety. In such cases, people might avoid social situations - such as sports - out of fear of having an asthma attack. 


Living with asthma can make people isolate themselves and feel burdened by the constant need for medication or of always needing to have an inhaler nearby. Research suggests that depression disorders can occur more often in patients who have asthma, especially in those with poorly controlled asthma.

Importantly, even though the use of steroids is associated with depression, this is unlikely to happen during the maintenance part of asthma treatment, since this includes mostly inhaling steroids medication, which is not associated with depression. However, in some cases, people might need to take oral steroids, which might lead to side effects such as depression, especially after the use of high doses of steroids for a prolonged period of time (more than three weeks).

How to cope with asthma

There is still no cure for asthma. However, fortunately, there are highly effective treatments that can keep asthma under control, which allow asthma patients to lead a normal life and helps avoid the negative effects of the disease on people’s mental health. Asthma treatment involves recognizing asthma triggers, using the medication correctly, not smoking, being physically active and eating healthy. 

Stick to your medication regimen

The absolute best way to keep asthma under control is by sticking to your medication regimen. It is extremely important to use the medication as prescribed by your doctor and ask for help if you have any doubts on how to use the medication. In this way, you can keep your asthma under control, which will help with the fear of having an unpredicted attack and all the mental stress that comes with it. 

Find your own relaxation techniques

Just like every person has to learn to recognize what triggers their asthma, you have to learn your own relaxation techniques. These might include breathing exercises, meditation, mindfulness, among many others. 

Keep in touch with available support systems

Every long term condition, such as asthma, requires strong support systems. These can mean communicating with friends and family, but also with support groups or therapists. It can be very helpful to talk with others who also experience asthma and many organizations have local support groups. Besides, if you are struggling to cope, therapy can be extremely helpful. Talk to your medical doctor and other healthcare workers about how to get the best type of help for you. 

Supporting a loved one who has asthma

Having a strong support system is really beneficial for those who have asthma. If you want to support a loved one who has asthma, you can do this in many ways. Helping them to follow their treatment - by recognizing and helping to avoid asthma triggers, keeping using the medication correctly and keeping a healthy lifestyle - is a meaningful way of showing support. Being there to listen to their struggles is also essential. If you feel like a loved one is struggling, encourage them to talk with their doctor and seek help. 


Asthma is a common respiratory disease in all ages and in all parts of the world. Its symptoms include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and a tight chest. Asthma attacks - a sudden worsening of asthma symptoms - can also occur. In the long term, asthma can have a negative impact on mental health, and people with asthma have more depression and anxiety than those who do not have asthma. 

There are several ways to cope with asthma, including following the medication regimen, finding relaxation techniques and having strong support systems. 

If you want to support a loved one who has asthma, encourage them to follow their treatment plan and to ask for help if they are struggling.


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  3. Renee D Goodwin, Frank C Bandiera, Dara Steinberg, Alexander N Ortega & Jonathan M Feldman. Asthma and mental health among youth: etiology, current knowledge and future directions, Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine. 2012, 6:4, 397-406, 
  4. World Health Organization, Global Surveillance, Prevention, and Control of Chronic Respiratory Diseases: A Comprehensive Approach. 2007, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.

Juliana Lima Constantino

Medical Doctor and Master Student in Epidemiology, University of Groningen, Netherlands

Juliana completed her studies in Medicine in Brazil in 2019, during which she studied a year abroad in The Netherlands at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and took a Medical Elective in England at Oxford University.

After graduating, she worked as a general practitioner and as an emergency doctor in the frontline against COVID-19 in Brazil. In 2021, she moved to the Netherlands to do her Master in Epidemiology.

She is currently working on her Master Thesis in the Global Health Department, with a focus on maternal and child health. She is passionate about medical writing as it serve as a way of spreading trustworthy knowledge to everyone. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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