How Are the Lungs Affected by Stress?

by John Bottrell Health Professional

"You're just like everybody else... Pressure"

So sang Billy Joel in
his 1982 hit.
Joel also has asthma.
Perhaps he didn't know pressure (stress) can affect the lungs, or he might have added this little tid bit to his song.

"His asthma hit... He felt like a fish out of water... Pressure!"
He may have added to the song.

Yet while asthma can cause pressure, pressure can also be an asthma trigger.
New studies also show that pressure can also cause one to develop asthma.
How could this be, you wonder?

Well, it's really not a new theory, as in the 19th century and until the 1950s many asthma experts (like Henry Hyde Salter) believed asthma was all in your head, that is was caused by stress, anxiety and depression.

Thankfully modern wisdom has proven asthma is not all in your head.
Yet as we look at some newer studies, experts like Dr. Salter weren't as wrong as some of us might want to think.

Consider the following studies:

  • This 2009 study shows that kids with stressed and anxious parents were 50 percent more likely to develop asthma, or at least when exposed to pollutants.

  • This 2004 study showed a link between the levels of high stress and asthma

  • This 2008 study links child abuse with asthma, showing that children stressed due to child abuse were twice as likely to develop asthma as compared to non-abused children.

  • This

2010 study shows that asthmatics are 50 percent more likely to have anxiety and depression compared to those who do not have asthma.

Why the link?
Experts believe increased stress and anxious thoughts cause the body to release
harmful chemicals
that increase inflammation in the lungs.
Thus, if a child is continuously exposed to a stressful environment, this inflammation can become permanent.
This is asthma.

Likewise, this sets up an environment inside the lungs so that when the person is exposed to asthma triggers (like pollution) later on, these kids are more likely to develop asthma or allergies.

A similar theory is that stress caused by abuse depletes supplies of the hormone cortisol, which helps reduce inflammation in the lungs.
With low levels of cortisol, the harmful chemicals released due to stress are likely to have free reign.

Prenatal stress, on the other hand, effects an unborn childs immune system development, and, later in life, this can cause the child's immune system to have an un-natural response to environmental triggers (like pollution or allergens), and this increases the risk of developing asthma later in life.

We all face challenges, and that means we all face pressure. Without challenges comes no stress. Yet without challenges life would be boring. So to make life interesting we all need stress.

Some stress is avoidable.
Yet other stress is not.
For instance, there is a high rate of asthma in poverty situations.
It's possible one of the reasons is that poverty increases stress.

Still, while you can't get rid of all pressure in your life, you can learn to cope with it. Here are some tips to help you relieve stress to help your lungs:

  1. Exercise: This may be the best stress reducer.

It's also proven to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.

  1. Eat healthy: Junk food can make you feel, well,

  2. Get enough sleep: Experts recommend at least seven to eight hours of sleep

  3. Get organized: Plan your day.

Feeling in
can help you
feel better about yourself.

  1. Learn to relax: Something what really helps me is progressive relaxation.

  2. Avoid stress: You can't avoid it all,
    yet you can
    avoid those things that cause the most stress in your life.

  3. Seek help: Talk to family and friends and try to find ways to reduce stress.
    Or talk to experts.

"You have to learn to pace yourself... Pressure!"
Joel's song notes.

So true!
This simple advice might actually prevent asthma.

John Bottrell
Meet Our Writer
John Bottrell

John Bottrell is a registered Respiratory Therapist. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).