What's the Difference Between a lung Spasm and an Asthma Attack?


Asked by Margaret

What's The Difference Between A Lung Spasm And An Asthma Attack?

I have chronic bronchitis, asthma and I'm allergic to trees. I recently had what I thought was a horrible asthma attack where I couldn't breathe—I felt like my airway was closing. My doctor told me it was a spasm by spirometer. What exactly is this and what could have caused it? What should I do if it happens again?


Hi Margaret,

The term "spasm" of the lung is sometimes used interchangeably with shortness of breath, wheezing or chest tightness. Asthma attacks are often characterized by severe chest symptoms associated with airway constriction. Smooth muscle that is wrapped around the small airways may constrict after being stimulated by allergens, irritants or viral infections. The tightening of these tiny spindle shaped muscle cells results in narrowing of the lumen (the inside opening) of the lung airways. Reliever inhalers that contain albuterol (Proventil, ProAir, Ventolin, Xopenex) are used to relax the constricted muscle and relieve the chest symptoms mentioned above.

Chronic bronchitis is a lung disease brought on by several years of tobacco smoking. People with this problem have a morning cough that produces about a half cup of phlegm. The productive cough must occur three or more months out of the year for two consecutive years to be considered chronic bronchitis.

Often people with chronic bronchitis and asthma are told they have asthmatic bronchitis. Chest symptoms are worsened by the same irritant and allergy triggers discussed in many of the postings about asthma. Stress may also trigger asthma symptoms. Dr. Fred Little discussed this topic in a previous posting.

Yes, the attack can happen again but you can be better be prepared for it by having a plan of action established by your doctor. Keep your reliever inhaler with you at all times when away from home and try not to panic. Read more about asthma trigger factors, and treatment and discuss them with your doctor. Ask about seeing a lung specialist or allergist if you continue to have breathing problems.

To Good Health,

J. Thompson, MD

You should know: The answer above provides general health information that is not intended to replace medical advice or treatment recommendations from a qualified healthcare professional.