Asthma Attacks And Panic Attacks: Navigating Breathless Moments


Asthma Attacks and panic attacks are often considered to be distinct medical conditions. However, people often confuse the symptoms due to various similarities. As we describe the two, you will see why it is difficult to find the differences between them. It is important to distinguish both to treat them accordingly as the causes and methods of treatment are not effective otherwise. In case, you have been having some lately, reading this article clears up the doubt for you and can help you seek the right treatment. We will also be discussing the details of each of these conditions in depth and suggest treatment ways.

What are Asthma attacks?

Asthma is a respiratory condition characterized by inflammation of the airways. The symptoms of asthma include wheezing sounds when breathing, finding it difficult to breathe, and consistent coughing along with chest pain. Researchers are yet to zero in on the exact causes of asthma but some of them include-

What are Asthma attacks

  1. Genetic- There is a genetic mutation at play when it comes to asthma. It is believed that a family history of asthma could probably be vulnerable to asthma. Unlike breast cancer, the gene mutation is not obvious but there are pieces of evidence to suggest it is.
  2. Environmental factors- Many environmental factors could directly lead to asthma. These could be allergens, irritants, and infections. While allergens include pollen and dust, irritants could be air pollution or tobacco. On the other hand, the infections could be the ones that develop during childhood. Occupational exposures comes as a result of activities like construction or chemicals.
  3. Hygiene hypothesis- It is based on the idea that if an individual is born in a clean environment sudden exposure to dust or other similar irritants could flare up an asthmatic attack.

Asthma attack: Treatment

The treatment plans for asthma attacks usually vary based on the age and the intensity of the attack. Firstly, there are quick-relief medications that are used when the condition is too severe. That includes albuterol and bronchodilators that can open up the airways and deliver the medicine directly to the problem area in gaseous forms. Secondly, patients are also administered oral corticosteroids such as prednisone that reduce the inflammation of the airways and the occurrences of the attack. Thirdly, in some cases, people might feel like they cannot breathe and therefore oxygen therapy works the best. Additionally, it is important to have a plan when dealing with asthma if you are patient. Staying away from allergens and taking your medicines with you would be suggested.

What are panic attacks?

Panic attacks are sudden intense episodes of fear and anxiety that can occur unexpectedly. Physical and psychological symptoms could both manifest in this case. People experiencing panic attacks often feel discomfort in the chest, sweating, and shortness of breath. Moreover, one could feel nauseous and dizzy as well.

What are panic attacks

When it comes to causes, the panic attacks are usually without one. It is triggered when a sudden fear grips the person experiencing it. It is believed that the response comes up when they feel a deep sense of anxiety that suggests the patient go for a flight or fight response. Fear or terror of a particular situation or person could make you panic. It is in no way similar to the general fear one might feel when they encounter something fearsome. Since it is related to mental health, the ways to treat it can depend on the person and their level of anxiety. Generally, patients with panic attacks are given-

  1. Psychotherapy- This includes listening and calming them down. It could also include talking to the patient and then letting them open up about the issues that might have triggered the event in the first place.
  2. Cognitive behavioral therapy- This includes helping the patient behave in certain scenarios that could make them fearful in the first place. Repeatedly asking them to respond differently and expect the obvious makes it easier to face a similar situation later on.
  3. Medications- people have also been prescribed medications like Benzodiazepines and SSRIs which release serotonin into their brains which can help them work logically.


Panic and asthma attacks are different in the following ways-


Panic attacks have no specialized cause and could be triggered at any moment. Asthma attacks on the other hand are the result of dust, mites, allergens, or infections. Moreover, asthma attacks could persist longer than panic attacks.

Physical examination

Healthcare providers use different types of tests to determine the presence of these ailments. While asthma attacks could show up on X-rays and lung function tests as they have physical reasons, panic attacks cannot show up on any tests as they are mostly psychological.


Medications for asthma attacks include a wide range of defibrillators or oxygen masks that can release the medicine directly. Panic attacks are treated with medications that control the release of serotonin and other counseling methods that can help us cope with an adverse situation.


Panic attacks cause a range of symptoms that are usually adrenaline-related including the feeling of dying. However, an asthma attack causes shortness of breath and wheezing that is audible.


Asthma attacks set in slowly compared to panic attacks and can get worse as time passes by. Panic attacks are shorter and could be sudden which could last for shorter periods once the person calms down.


Overlapping symptoms could be confusing in the case of these two conditions. However, both could be equally threatening for the person experiencing. A way to deal with asthma attacks is to not expose yourself to infections and take your medicines but when that is of seldom help talk to a doctor and get immediate medical attention. A panic attack is more unreliable however there is a way to deal with them as well. Apart from relying on counseling and medications, one could also join support groups to deal with the condition. Also, seek the support of your loved ones and a companion could help with daily chores. 


Goodwin RD, Pine DS. Respiratory disease and panic attacks among adults in the United States. Chest 2002;122:645–650. [PubMed]

Goodwin RD, Pine DS, Hoven CW. Asthma and panic attacks among youth in the community. J Asthma 2003;40:139–145. [Google Scholar]

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Dr. David G Kiely is a distinguished Medical Reviewer and former General Medicine Consultant with a wealth of experience in the field. Dr. Kiely's notable career as a General Medicine Consultant highlights his significant contributions to the medical field.

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