Last updated on 02/03/2021

child cryingIn light of our Back-to-School campaign, we wanted to touch on the subject of emotions and asthma and how attending school doesn’t come as easily for some children.

It is an exciting time returning to school after the long holidays. There are old friends to see and new friends to meet. But for some kids, this can be an emotional time and the realities may not sink in until after the first week. Some of you may not know, but emotions can be a trigger for asthma, leading to increased symptoms and flare ups.

We’re not just talking about stress, anxiety or depression – we’re also talking about crying and laughter! In fact, heightened emotions in general can contribute to an asthma episode.

Emotions in children and asthma

For some kids, giggling, laughing or crying can bring on their asthma.

International studies of people with asthma report laughter is a common trigger for people with asthma.

Other big emotions such as crying, anger, excitement and surprise can also lead to symptoms.

For many people with asthma, stress is a trigger. And there are strong interlinkages between asthma, anxiety and depression.

This means when it is back to school time, some children may feel more stress at their new surroundings and fresh environment than others. For example, the idea of a new teacher, new classroom, being in a class without friends, having to catch a bus by themselves or being bullied are just some of the concerns which may come to mind.

It is important to listen and talk to your child, the school and or your child’s teacher and support network to ensure your child is happy at school.

During a flare-up

It is common for people experiencing asthma symptoms to also feel strong emotions.

Peter Diaz, mental health author and CEO of the WMHI, who speaks about mental health and asthma for Asthma Australia, says it is common for physical symptoms to also lead to stress and anxiety.

“You feel anxiety, your body is taxed, its being put under pressure and you feel anxiety because your body is trying to tell you to change something to make it better.”

But he says it is extremely common for people to feel mental health symptoms when they are experiencing asthma symptoms. Asthma and anxiety are closely linked, and when someone is experiencing an asthma flare up/attack often panic and anxiety can set in

Stress and anxiety and asthma

Stress, anxiety or other emotions can impact breathing, with some people taking shorter, shallower breaths. This can mimic asthma and lead to asthma symptoms.

Mr Diaz says the energy and effort required to “put on a good face for people” can sometimes be overwhelming for people with mental ill health.

“You find it hard to be with yourself, let alone other people,” he says.

“Then there is the anger and resentment. Usually, it is anger and resentment at yourself, you direct it inwards.

“You have this idea you should be okay. Everyone else is, and you start comparing yourself to others. It can also go outside and become resentment and anger.”

How to help when emotions trigger asthma

Emotions and stressors are much less likely to trigger asthma when it is well-managed.

Effective and ongoing management means taking your preventer medication in the way it is prescribed – this could be daily or twice daily – and keeping your reliever with you.

Having an up-to-date written Asthma Action Plan and following it as symptoms increase or decrease is critical, especially for children.

We recommend combining psychological and medical care, medical monitoring, individualised asthma education and adequate community support, if needed.

Pleasant and unpleasant emotions are part of life. Laughter, crying, stress or surprise can spur us on to do more, to take charge or have more fun.

Find out more about the links between asthma and emotions here

Visit our website for more information and resources about asthma in children.

Bird Healthcare and Flo are campaign partners of Asthma Australia and have not been involved in the development of this web page/content.