Panic Attack Vs Asthma Attack

Know the difference: Panic attack vs asthma attack

It can often be difficult to differentiate between a panic attack vs asthma attack. However, it is important to know the differences between the two to seek appropriate medical or emergency assistance when required. So, what is the difference between a panic attack vs asthma attack?

The symptoms of panic attack vs asthma attack can be quite similar, but they are two completely different disorders - let's take a look at them in more detail.

What is an asthma attack?

An asthma attack is the name given to a sudden onset of asthma symptoms. Asthma sufferers have more sensitive airways than most people, which become inflamed when irritated. The airway becomes restricted due to the inflammation of the tissue lining and the presence of thicker mucus, making it more difficult to breathe and causing an asthma attack.

Symptoms of an asthma attack

The symptoms of an asthma attack are related to the constricted airways and include bronchospasm, severe wheezing, coughing, blue lips, pale and sweaty face, feelings of panic and rapid breathing (hyperventilation).

Causes of an asthma attack

The cause of an asthma attack in asthma sufferers is usually due to environmental factors. Material within the air that is breathed in by the sufferer can irritate the lining of the airway and cause the attack. Some of the most common pollutants include pollen, smoke, smog and dust and attacks can be prevalent in areas of high air pollution.

So, what about panic attacks? How do panic attacks compare to asthma attacks?

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a sudden onset of overwhelming panic or fear, usually as a response to external stimuli. Panic attacks are a psychological condition but do manifest as physical symptoms, some of which are very similar to those of an asthma attack. When you have a panic attack, symptoms may come quickly and with little warning and you will feel a rush of anxiety or panic.

The symptoms of panic attacks

A fast or irregular heartbeat and tightening of the chest is a common symptom of a panic attack. It is these symptoms that cause many people to often mistake a panic attack for a heart-related problem or even a heart attack. Other symptoms include shaking, hyperventilating, tinnitus (a ringing in your ears), nausea, dizziness, sweating and even the sensation of being choked.

Panic attacks are incredibly scary, as are asthma attacks. While panic attacks can be mistaken for heart attacks, asthma attacks can be mistaken for panic attacks and vice versa, but there are telltale symptoms and signs to help you tell the difference.

Am I having a panic attack?

Panic attacks usually occur only in those with a history of anxiety or depression disorders, or in incredibly fearful and stressful situations. If you don't have a history of panic attacks and have not been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or depression, and have not been exposed to a situation that could induce extreme fear, you're probably not having a panic attack.

Panic attacks don't require immediate medical attention and will often settle down themselves within five to 20 minutes. It's important to try to keep the person calm and instruct them to put their head between their legs until the feeling has passed.

Ongoing issues with anxiety can be medicated using beta blockers or other medications - talk to your doctor if you suffer from frequent panic attacks or anxiety.

Am I having an asthma attack?

If you have no history of asthma but do have a history of anxiety, then you are most likely experiencing a panic attack and not an asthma attack. Asthma attacks can cause anxiety (during the attack) and the chest tightness and rapid breathing can indicate a panic attack. However, asthma attacks will most likely occur in those who are known to suffer from asthma, and panic attacks in those known to suffer from anxiety. The problem really arises in someone who has a history of both.

If you don't know if you are suffering from an asthma or panic attack, seek treatment for asthma (inhaler) and wait a few minutes to see if the symptoms die down. If, after a couple of hours, you have no relief and are still suffering, you should seek emergency medical attention as you may be having a more severe asthma attack (panic attacks can be ruled out after about an hour).

Last Reviewed:
July 14, 2017
Last Updated:
October 19, 2017