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What is bronchospasm?

Bronchospasm is a narrowing of your airway that usually comes and goes. It may make it hard for you to breathe.

What increases my risk for bronchospasm?

Bronchospasms may be triggered by one or more of the following:

  • Family or personal history of asthma or allergies to things such as pollen, mold, dust, animal dander, latex, or food additives
  • Upper respiratory infections such as a chest cold
  • Exercise or increased activity
  • Air irritants such as smoke, air pollution, strong odors, cold or dry air, or too much air from a ventilator
  • Medicines such as antibiotics, blood pressure medicines, aspirin, or NSAIDs

What are the signs and symptoms of bronchospasm?

  • Trouble breathing, often at night, in the morning, or after you exercise
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing (whistling sound when you breathe)
  • Chest tightness and pressure

How is bronchospasm diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your history of allergies, asthma, or illnesses. He will listen to your breathing. You may need the following:

  • A chest x-ray is used to take pictures of your lungs and helps check for signs of infection, such as upper respiratory infection or pneumonia.
  • Pulmonary function tests are used to see how well your lungs are working. They measure the strength of your breath when you exhale.
  • CT scan is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your lungs to check for problems, such as blood clots. You may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help healthcare providers see the pictures better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

How is bronchospasm treated?

The following medicines may help open your airway and reduce swelling in your lungs:

  • Bronchodilators help expand your airway for easier breathing. Some of these medicines may help prevent future spasms.
  • Inhaled steroids help reduce swelling in your airway and soothe your breathing. These are used for long-term control.
  • Anticholinergics help relax and open your airway.

What are the risks of bronchospasm?

You may not be able to exercise as much or as easily as you would like. Severe bronchospasm may be life-threatening.

How can I help prevent bronchospasms?

  • Avoid triggers.
  • Warm up before you exercise. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.
  • Try to avoid people who are sick. Ask your healthcare provider if you need a flu or pneumonia vaccine.
  • Breathe through your nose when you are in cold, dry air or weather. This may help reduce lung irritation by warming the air before it reaches your lungs.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a cough that will not go away.
  • Your wheezing worsens.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You cough or spit up blood.
  • You are short of breath.
  • You have blue fingernails or toenails.
  • You have chest pain.
  • You have a fast or uneven heartbeat.

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