Skip to main content

Title Image
Photo by Joice Kelly on Unsplash
How do I know that I am having an asthma attack or anxiety? I don't usually have wheezing, coughing or chest tightness.

Some features can help you tell the difference between an asthma attack and anxiety. They can both cause a feeling of chest tightness and difficulty breathing.

Asthma attacks typically include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Decreased oxygen uptake

Anxiety and panic attacks typically cause:

  • Hyperventilation (e.g., shallow, rapid breathing)
  • Increased uptake of oxygen
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle cramps

Common triggers for asthma attacks include:

Common triggers for anxiety and panic attacks include:

  • Stress
  • Phobias
  • Significant life changes

Talk about your symptoms with your doctor. They’ll make a diagnosis, and create a treatment plan.

Asthma, Diagnosis, Symptoms
Answered by

John M. James, MD, is a board-certified allergist. He is also President of Food Allergy Consulting and Education Services, LLC. He has worked as a medical specialist in the field of allergy, asthma, and immunology for over 30 years. Dr. James received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas and his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Tennessee. He is board certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology.

Reviewed and Answered

Add Comment

Comments (2)

Newest · Oldest · Popular

Thank you for sharing about your experience, @GigiGibson! I can only imagine how stressful that process was for you. I'm glad to hear that you were able to reach a diagnosis. When navigating this situation, what were some things that were helpful for you? How did you advocate for yourself?

You're right- unfortunately, with anxiety and asthma, some of the symptoms can overlap. When people experience strong emotions, their breathing changes, even if they don't have asthma. Stress and anxiety can trigger asthma symptoms.

We encourage anyone that is wondering if they are experiencing symptoms due to asthma or anxiety, to discuss this with their doctor. Each case is different, and a doctor can be helpful in knowing what symptoms to look for.


I appreciate an article on this subject but it’s opinions such as this that lead ED physicians to make assumptions and call asthma anxiety. I had extensive testing and was found to have inflammatory asthma, mild bronchiectasis & TBM. I had adult onset and do not wheeze. My sat does not drop unless I have a concurrent infection.
it’s not normal for asthmatics to have low sats during an attack that’s not approaching failure or intubation. Air exchange is ok, it’s the airway obstructing from swelling and mucus. Yes, occlusion can result in no air flow but at that state you are intubating.
Stress and anxiety can bring on an attack. And certainly, in a bad attack anxiety climbs but don’t assume it’s panic.

Link copied to your clipboard.