Emotional responses such as laughter can trigger flares of asthma symptoms. Although laughter does not directly cause symptoms, an increased breathing rate while laughing may lead to some breathing difficulty and discomfort.
Asthma is a chronic condition that causes inflammation and narrowing of airways inside the lungs.
There are various asthma types, and several triggers can cause an attack. These may include emotional factors, environmental allergens, and seasonal changes.
This article examines how an emotional response such as laughter can lead to asthma symptoms, methods of treating and managing the condition, and other asthma triggers. It also answers some frequently asked questions about asthma.
Emotional responses such as laughter can trigger asthma symptoms due to the body’s response to emotion and its effects on breathing.
Laughing causes tightening of the:
- abdominal muscles
This forces the lungs to work harder, exhaling stale air and inhaling fresh air deeper into the lungs. Anecdotal evidence suggests that when a person’s body does this repeatedly, it may cause common asthma symptoms, such as:
- breathing difficulties
- atypical breath sounds, such as rattling in the chest and wheezing
- chest tightness
Even people without asthma experience breathing changes as a bodily response to emotion. The response itself does not cause the symptoms. Instead, the increased breathing rate that results from an emotional response may lead to asthma flaring.
Similarly, responses such as crying or certain emotions, including anger, stress, and excitement, may alter how someone breathes. This can further contribute to the onset of asthma symptoms.
Managing laughter as a trigger
Although people may find that laughing triggers symptoms, they do not need to avoid it because of asthma. Laughter may provide a range of physical and mental health benefits.
People can speak with a healthcare professional about ways to treat and manage asthma symptoms.
It is important a person uses the medications a doctor prescribes for their asthma. People need to keep their quick-relief inhalers with them at all times, especially in situations where they may experience laughter or other emotional responses that could trigger asthma symptoms.
An asthma action plan
Doctors prescribe quick-relief medications which people administer via an inhaler. These act as quick relief or rescue treatments when needed, such as when a person experiences asthma symptoms during or following laughter.
General asthma medications currently include:
- long- and short-term bronchodilators, which relax muscles around the airways
- oral steroids for short-term management of attacks
- inhaled corticosteroids for long-term asthma maintenance
Read more about asthma treatments.
If a person finds that emotions trigger their asthma symptoms, it may be useful to track them.
They may also benefit from learning ways to help manage intense emotions, such as through breathing exercises. These may help ease symptoms and reduce their duration or frequency.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends a person speak with a doctor if positive emotions or laughter exacerbate asthma symptoms.
It is best to also speak with a doctor if symptoms:
- do not go away with usual asthma medications, such as a rescue inhaler
- temporarily improve with medication before coming back
- seem to be worsening with or without triggers
- disrupt daily activities, such as exercise
- affect sleep, such as when a person experiences breathlessness at night
Doctors may need to modify a person’s asthma action plan if it no longer provides relief from symptoms.
People should seek emergency attention or dial 911 if they or someone else develops any of the following:
- severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- the body or lips turn blue, white, or purple
- an inability to move or talk due to breathlessness
- loss of consciousness
- a rapid heart rate
Factors that may play more of a role than laughter in triggering asthma symptoms include:
- allergens, such as:
- certain weather conditions, including:
- dry wind
- cold air
- sudden changes in temperature
- environmental irritants, such as:
- smoke from tobacco or fires
- air pollution
- exercise or physical activity
- certain medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and beta-blockers
- other health conditions, including:
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- a food allergy
- respiratory infections such as COVID-19, colds, and flu
- stress and strong emotions such as:
Below are answers to some common questions about asthma.
Why do I have difficulty breathing after laughing?
People with asthma experience inflammation in the airways, which often narrow in response to certain triggers. A person with asthma may find their breathing becomes heavier, and they wheeze after laughing.
Laughter does not directly cause symptoms to occur. However, the increased breathing rate it causes may lead to some difficulty and discomfort.
Why do I get a cough after laughing?
Coughing is a common symptom of asthma. This, along with other symptoms, may result from triggers such as changes to the respiratory system that can occur during emotional responses, such as laughter.
Can you be allergic to laughter?
While laughter may trigger asthma, wheezing and coughing, it is impossible to be allergic to laughter. Anecdotal evidence suggests it may benefit health, supporting the idea that “laughter is the best medicine.”
Laughter-induced asthma refers to asthma that develops or flares up due to laughter. Experts believe that strong emotional responses cause physical changes in the body that may trigger certain asthma symptoms, including a faster breathing rate.
However, it is possible to manage asthma symptoms that may occur due to emotional factors with fast-acting inhalers. A doctor can also create an asthma action plan for long-term management and treatment.
Some people may find it beneficial to use breathing exercises to reduce symptom severity and duration.