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Stress Induced Asthma

Asthma is a relatively common chronic disease characterised by repeated attacks of difficulty in breathing and coughing. Asthma appears to be on the increase all over the western world especially in children. It affects approximately 8% of the UK population and is seen in all ages.

  • 50% of sufferers are children, mostly boys under the age of 10. 

  • It is estimated that half of the children who develop asthma will grow out of it as they enter adulthood.

  • In adults, women are more likely to develop asthma than men. 

Asthma affects the bronchioles in the lungs. During an asthma attack:

  • The bronchioles constrict. 

  • The lining of the bronchioles becomes inflamed.

  • The lining of the bronchioles produces excess mucus. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Difficulty in breathing and tightness in the chest.

  • Wheezing when breathing.

  • Unproductive coughing at night.

Factors that trigger an asthma attack can include:

  • cold 

  • exertion 

  • smoke 

  • air pollution (has not been proven to cause asthma)

  • airway infection 

  • allergies

  • certain medications

  • laughter 

  • anxiety

Asthma can develop at any age. As yet the precise reasons for the development of the condition are unknown Several factors appear to be important: 

  • Genetic factors 

  • Increased hygienic environment 

  • Diet 

  • Smoking during pregnancy 

  • Viral infection (sometimes a cause of late-onset asthma)

  • Workplace irritants 


Pharmacological treatment is divided into two approaches:

  • Relievers These are quick acting medicines that dilate the bronchioles  thereby making it easier to breathe. 

  • Preventers These are longer acting drugs. When taken regularly they should reduce the need to take relievers. If the symptoms are relatively mild then relievers may be prescribed. If the symptoms are moderate to severe then both relievers and preventers are prescribed.

  • Patients can take other preventative measures to manage their asthma:

  • Stress management 

  • Avoidance of known triggers 

  • Undertake exercise    (1)


Cognitive factors can play a role in the maintenance and management of asthma (2) 

These include: 

  • Beliefs -  Both healthy and unhealthy beliefs can create self-fulfilling prophesies with regard to the course of a patients asthma. For example, the often-held belief that if the patient forgets to carry their reliever he or she will have an asthma attack.

  • Beliefs instilled by parental attitudes. For example, where parents prevent a child from taking exercise or from entering supposed allergenic environments in case they experience an asthma attack.

  • Beliefs gained from observation of others panicking whilst the patient experiences an asthma attack. The self-perception of being a fragile person can result in over responding to a lack of fitness. For example reaching for the reliever after a normal response to exercise (e.g. running for a bus).


  • Conditioning  - Conditioning can occur because of beliefs. As a belief becomes more entrenched in the patients mind then asthmatic responses can become conditioned to environmental cues. For example, non-allergenic materials such as synthetic fur, synthetic flowers etc. 

  • Anxiety -  Anxiety is known to increase perception of asthmatic symptoms and will lead to their exacerbation. As anxiety increases the patient begins to focus on their symptoms, perceiving them as threatening. This in turn increases their anxiety, which will trigger an increase in respiration. Increased respiration will trigger bronchoconstriction, inflammation and mucus production exacerbating the asthmatic symptoms. 


Hypnotherapy is aimed at helping patients manage their own symptoms through a process of relaxation, desensitising to anxiety provoking thoughts or situations and learning self hypnosis techniques. The beliefs, conditioning and anxiety which may be playing a role in the maintenance and management of anxiety, are all held within subconscious programming in the mind. It is these subconscious patterns that hypnotherapy aims to uncover and alter in order to support positive change.

A study from 2007 showed that hypnosis for asthma “is a possibly efficacious for treatment of symptom severity and illness-related behaviours and is efficacious for managing emotional states that exacerbate airway obstruction. Hypnosis is also possibly efficacious for decreasing airway obstruction and stabilizing airway hyper-responsiveness in some individuals.” (3)




1.  Rees J and Kanabar D (2005) ABC of Asthma 5th edition BMJ Books

2.  Callery P, Milnes L, Verduyn C and Couriel (2003) Qualitative study of young people’s and parents’ beliefs about childhood asthma The British Journal of General Practice 53(488): 185-190 


Katon WJ, Richardson L, Lozano P and McAuley (2004) The relationship between asthma and anxiety disorders Psychosomatic Medicine 66(3): 348-355


Valença AM, Falcão R, Friere RC, Nascimento I, Nascentes R, Zin WA and Nardi AE (2006) The relationship between the severity of asthma and comorbidities with anxiety and depressive disorders Revista Brasileira de Psiquitria 28(3): 206-208


3. Brown D (2007) Evidence-based hypnotherapy for asthma: a critical review International journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 55(2): 220-249

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