Bronchospasm, Adult

ExitCare ImageA bronchospasm is a spasm or tightening of the airways going into the lungs. During a bronchospasm breathing becomes more difficult because the airways get smaller. When this happens there can be coughing, a whistling sound when breathing (wheezing), and difficulty breathing. Bronchospasm is often associated with asthma, but not all patients who experience a bronchospasm have asthma.

CAUSES

A bronchospasm is caused by inflammation or irritation of the airways. The inflammation or irritation may be triggered by:

  • Allergies (such as to animals, pollen, food, or mold). Allergens that cause bronchospasm may cause wheezing immediately after exposure or many hours later.  

  • Infection. Viral infections are believed to be the most common cause of bronchospasm.  

  • Exercise.  

  • Irritants (such as pollution, cigarette smoke, strong odors, aerosol sprays, and paint fumes).  

  • Weather changes. Winds increase molds and pollens in the air. Rain refreshes the air by washing irritants out. Cold air may cause inflammation.  

  • Stress and emotional upset.  

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • Wheezing.  

  • Excessive nighttime coughing.  

  • Frequent or severe coughing with a simple cold.  

  • Chest tightness.  

  • Shortness of breath.  

DIAGNOSIS

Bronchospasm is usually diagnosed through a history and physical exam. Tests, such as chest X-rays, are sometimes done to look for other conditions.

TREATMENT

  • Inhaled medicines can be given to open up your airways and help you breathe. The medicines can be given using either an inhaler or a nebulizer machine.

  • Corticosteroid medicines may be given for severe bronchospasm, usually when it is associated with asthma.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Always have a plan prepared for seeking medical care. Know when to call your health care provider and local emergency services (911 in the U.S.). Know where you can access local emergency care.

  • Only take medicines as directed by your health care provider.

  • If you were prescribed an inhaler or nebulizer machine, ask your health care provider to explain how to use it correctly. Always use a spacer with your inhaler if you were given one.

  • It is necessary to remain calm during an attack. Try to relax and breathe more slowly. 

  • Control your home environment in the following ways:  

  • Change your heating and air conditioning filter at least once a month.  

  • Limit your use of fireplaces and wood stoves.

  • Do not smoke and do not allow smoking in your home.  

  • Avoid exposure to perfumes and fragrances.  

  • Get rid of pests (such as roaches and mice) and their droppings.  

  • Throw away plants if you see mold on them.  

  • Keep your house clean and dust free.  

  • Replace carpet with wood, tile, or vinyl flooring. Carpet can trap dander and dust.  

  • Use allergy-proof pillows, mattress covers, and box spring covers.  

  • Wash bed sheets and blankets every week in hot water and dry them in a dryer.  

  • Use blankets that are made of polyester or cotton.  

  • Wash hands frequently.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have muscle aches.  

  • You have chest pain.  

  • The sputum changes from clear or white to yellow, green, gray, or bloody.  

  • The sputum you cough up gets thicker.  

  • There are problems that may be related to the medicine you are given, such as a rash, itching, swelling, or trouble breathing.  

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have worsening wheezing and coughing even after taking your prescribed medicines.  

  • You have increased difficulty breathing.  

  • You develop severe chest pain.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.