Anxiety Cough: What You Need To Know
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Anxiety Cough: What You Need to Know

Justin is 15 years of age and suffers from anxiety. The thought of going to his cousin's place on the weekend makes his heart pound faster and his palms sweat. Justin also has a cough which starts with a tickle at the back of the throat. When Justin coughs it seems that he is trying to expel something from his chest. It is bizarre as the cough only lasts for the period that Justin is suffering from his anxiety episodes.

Research has shown that there is a correlation between anxiety and an intermittent cough. When a person suffers from the anxiety they usually have problems with the way they breathe due to the impact the anxiety causes on their lungs. When a person is experiencing an anxiety episode their breathing is usually short and rapid which reduces the space in the airways causing the body to cough. The body reacts with a cough as it tries to expand the airways to allow greater volumes of air to be inhaled into the body.

A cough caused by anxiety may also occur because the body enters into a flight or fight mode in response to a perceived danger (anxiety event). During the fight or flight response mode, the body acts quickly suppressing body functions that are not needed to deal with the anxiety episode. Energy is directed to those organs, muscles and glands that are perceived to be in direct danger. This is a fantastic response system when the perceived danger is occasional however with someone who suffers from anxiety, the perceived threat is always constant.This has an adverse effect on the immune system, as it is suppressed during an anxiety episode and is not needed in the flight or fight mode. A suppressed immune system allows for bacteria and viruses to enter the body and take hold which is why an anxiety cough may be present during anxiety episodes and may linger longer than is expected.

A third reason why a cough is present during anxiety episodes lies with a nerve that runs from the brainstem to the internal organs of the body. This nerve is called the Vagus nerve and is directly responsible for providing nerve fibres to the throat, lungs and heart. It also transports sensory information from the throat to the brain. Because the vagus nerve is part of the nervous system it is impacted during an anxiety episode as it is over stimulated. An over stimulated Vagus nerve causes adverse problems in the lungs, and throat which result in a dry or a nervous cough.

Overcoming an Anxiety Cough

The main problem with an anxiety cough lies in the learnt behaviours that has occurred over many years with a person's breathing patterns. As you are suffering from an anxiety episode, your breathing is usually rapid and short. This type of breathing is non-productive and is the polar opposite response you want when you are trying to calm your body down. The key to controlling your anxiety response is to control your breathing. This can be tough and requires many hours of retraining of the mind to breath in through the nose and out through the mouth slowly and in a controlled manner. The goal should be to breathe in through the nose for a 5-second count. Then hold for two seconds and then breathe out through pursed lips for a 7-second count. A tip that may assist you with this breathing process is jogging as jogging trains the body to breathe in and out in a controlled manner.

Reducing your exposure to the anxiety event is another way to reduce an anxiety cough. In Justin's situation, he could simply not go to his cousin's place which would reduce his anxiety episode. This is not always possible as every situation that causes anxiety in life cannot always be avoided. If Justin was to not go to his cousins place it may be perceived as being rude because his cousin is family. There is research that shows that confronting you anxiety head on is the best way to overcome your anxiety episode. If this approach was to be considered then it is recommended that it is done under the guidance of a health professional that has an understanding of anxiety exposure therapy.

It is important to note that although an anxiety cough is problematic it is not a serious health issue. It does usually disappear once the anxiety episode has passed.


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