Oftentimes, it is difficult to tell the difference between an asthma attack and a panic attack. It is important to know the difference, as an asthma attack may need urgent medical treatment to prevent asphyxiation. A panic attack is treated a different way, and does not require emergency medical treatment. The main difference between an asthma attack and a panic attack is that you can die from asphyxiation from an untreated asthma attack; a panic attack will not kill you or harm you.
An asthma attack is characterized shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, labored breathing, breathing with neck muscles, fatigue with breathing muscles, and difficulty speaking. You may feel like you are going to die from shortness of breath and not getting enough air. In addition, when you suffer from an asthma attack, you may be unable to move freely and may have difficulty eating and drinking, as your body is not being oxygenated properly. With an asthma attack, you may also find lying down to sleep may be difficult as this position worsens the shortness of breath. Asthma attacks can last for several hours if breathing interventions at home are not effective.
A panic attack is characterized by extreme anxiety, shortness of breath, chest pain, light-headedness, tingling and numbness of the arms and legs, feeling like you are going to die, feeling like you are having a heart attack, and sweating/overheating. Panic attacks typically last for only 5 to 10 minutes. They do not last all day or last for several hours.
When you have an asthma attack, it is often helpful to find someone you trust, and they may be able to assist with your breathing and your inhalants. The person that assists you in an asthma attack can help you slow down your breathing by talking you through your breaths in a low, hypnotic, non-critical voice. Focus on something else, like an object immediately in front of you. Then start slowing down your fast, shallow breathing by taking deeper breaths, and blowing out the breaths through your mouth (making an ‘O’ with your mouth), blowing out the air directed at the object you are focusing on in front of you. As your breaths start slowing down, take multiple puffs of your inhaler, like Albuterol (salbutamol). If you experience worsening shortness of breath and labored breathing after these breathing interventions, then it may be time to go to the emergency department for urgent medical care to prevent asphyxiation.
In summary, the main difference between an asthma attack and a panic attack is that an asthma attack is associated with risk for asphyxiation, which can be fatal if untreated; a panic attack will not kill you or harm you. Asthma attacks are also different in clinical presentation than a panic attack in that an asthma attack consists of wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, labored breathing, breathing with neck muscles, and fatigue in breathing muscles. Another difference is that an asthma attack can last for several hours if untreated; a panic attack peaks anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, and then subsides. For more information on panic attacks and medical problems that mimic panic attacks like asthma attacks, read my book on anxiety, Anxiety Protocol. Anxiety Protocol can help you to eradicate anxiety from your life.
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