It occurs when the muscles lining the airways of the lungs contract or tense, reducing airflow by 15 percent or more.
People with asthma, allergies, and lung conditions are more likely to develop bronchospasms than those without these conditions, as are young children and people over 65.
Bronchospasms, in themselves, are not considered contagious, but some of the viruses and bacteria that cause bronchospasm can be transmitted to other people. Bronchospasm may be caused by respiratory conditions, such as asthma or bronchitis, and medications or irritants.
Some medical conditions, allergens, and medications can cause bronchospasm.
Common causes of bronchospasm include:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).
- Emphysema .
- Chronic bronchitis.
- Viral, bacterial, and fungal infections.
- Air pollution or smoke.
- Environmental allergens include pet dander, pollen, mold, and dust.
- Some food additives and chemicals.
- Fumes from chemical products are used in cleaning and manufacturing products.
- Cold weather.
- General anesthesia mainly irritates the respiratory tract.
- Anticoagulant medications include blood pressure and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Scientists are still not sure why, but exercise seems to induce bronchospasm in some people. Traditionally, exercise-induced bronchospasm was considered a symptom of asthma, but new studies have revealed that this may not be true.
A 2014 study that surveyed nearly 8,000 French schoolchildren concluded that exercise-induced bronchospasm appears to be a separate and independent asthma condition.
The same study found that bronchospasms were associated with several types of atopic rhinitis. This chronic condition causes the formation of dry crusts in the nasal cavities and the gradual loss of the mucosa lining.
Researchers are also trying to determine whether new smoking alternatives, such as electronic cigarettes, cause bronchospasm. It has been shown that nicotine stimulates the primary nerve of the lungs, triggering muscle constriction and bronchospasm.
A 2017 study found that a single discharge of an electronic cigarette containing 12 mg/ml of nicotine was enough to cause bronchospasm in anesthetized guinea pigs.
Some chemicals found in medications used to open the airways (bronchodilators) have also been shown to cause bronchospasm, although this is rare.
Potential symptoms of bronchospasm include cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
The signs of bronchospasm are pretty evident, while the severity of the symptoms is directly related to reducing the airways or the amount of restricted airflow.
Common symptoms of bronchospasm include:
- Pain, tightness, and a feeling of constriction in the chest and back.
- Difficulty getting enough air or breathing.
- A whistle or whistle when inhaling.
- Feeling tired for no apparent reason
- Feel dizzy.
A doctor must diagnose and prescribe a treatment for bronchospasm. A pulmonologist or doctor specializing in the lungs can help confirm the diagnosis for complicated or severe cases.
Usually, a doctor will ask questions about a person’s history of lung conditions and allergies before listening to the lungs with a stethoscope.
Depending on the severity of the symptoms, and if bronchospasm is suspected, the doctor may perform a series of tests to assess how constricted or reduced the person’s airflow and respiration is.
Standard tests used to help diagnose bronchospasms include:
Spirometry tests, pulmonary diffusion, and lung volume: the individual breathes and exhales several times with moderate and maximum force through a tube connected to a computer.
Pulse Oximetry Tests: A device that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood attaches to the finger or ear.
Blood gas tests: a blood test determines the oxygen and carbon levels present.
Chest radiographs and computed tomography (CT) scans: images of the chest and lungs can be taken to rule out infection or lung conditions.
To determine if bronchospasm is caused by exercise, a doctor may recommend a voluntary eucappenic hyperventilation test. During this test, an individual inhales a mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide to see how their lung function changes.
When should people see a doctor?
People should seek immediate medical attention each time they experience severe, ongoing, or distressing bronchospasms. If the airflow is highly compromised, they should call 911 or go to the emergency department.
Additional reasons to talk with a doctor include:
- Very painful chronoscopes.
- Spasms that interfere with daily activities.
- Spasms that cause dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Spasms that occur after inhaling an allergen.
- Spasms that occur without apparent reason.
- Cramps that get worse or only happen during exercise.
- Cough mucus, especially if it is dark or discolored.
- Fever with a temperature of more than 100 ° F.
- Significant difficulty in getting enough air in the breath.
What are the most effective treatments?
Bronchodilators in the form of inhalers:
Bronchodilators are available in different forms, although they can provide the most significant relief when inhaled.
In most cases of bronchospasm, a doctor will prescribe bronchodilators. These medications cause the airways to widen, increasing airflow.
The three most common bronchodilators are beta-agonists, anticholinergics, and theophylline.
Although the medications used to treat bronchospasm come in tablets, injectables, and liquid forms, many are considered more effective when inhaled.
The best treatment plan depends on individual factors, such as the severity of the spasms, how often they occur, and their cause.
For severe or chronic cases, doctors can recommend steroids to reduce inflammation in the airways and increase airflow. When bacterial infections cause bronchospasms, doctors can also prescribe antibiotic medications.
Common medications used to treat bronchospasms include:
This type of bronchodilator starts working in minutes, and its effects last several hours.
Doctors prescribe short-acting bronchodilators for rapid relief of sudden and severe spasms and to treat spasms induced by exercise. Generally, a person should only take these medications once or twice a week.
Most short-acting bronchodilators are available in a liquid form that becomes an inhalable mist after passing through a nebulizer device.
Common short-acting bronchodilators include:
- AccuNeb, Proair, Ventolin.
- Long-acting bronchodilators in combination with steroids.
For chronic cases of bronchospasm, long-acting medications may be prescribed in combination with inhaled steroids to help prevent spasms.
In most cases, people take long-acting bronchodilators two or three times a day and at scheduled times. These medications are not helpful for the rapid relief of spasm symptoms.
Long-acting bronchodilators and medications with inhaled corticosteroids include: