Skip to main content


Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What is bronchospasm?

Bronchospasm is a narrowing of your airway that usually comes and goes. It may make it hard for you to breathe. Severe bronchospasm may be life-threatening.

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, such as to 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 during or after 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 or she will listen to your breathing. You may need the following:

  • X-ray pictures of your lungs may show signs of infection, such as an upper respiratory infection or pneumonia.
  • Pulmonary function tests measure the strength of your breath when you exhale.
  • CT scan pictures of your lungs may show problems, such as blood clots. You may be given contrast liquid before the pictures are taken to help healthcare providers see the pictures better. Tell the provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.

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.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I help prevent bronchospasms?

  • Avoid triggers. Your healthcare provider can help you identify your triggers. You may need to keep a diary of your symptoms. Include where you were and what you were doing when symptoms started. Also include how long symptoms lasted. Make a note of anything that helped or made your symptoms worse. Bring your diary to visits with your healthcare provider. He or she may also recommend skin prick tests or other tests to help find triggers.
  • Warm up before you exercise. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.
  • Keep your immune system healthy. Try to avoid people who are sick. Ask your healthcare provider about vaccines you may need. Vaccines help prevent certain infections that can cause breathing problems. Get a flu vaccine as soon as recommended each year, usually in September or October. Vaccines are also available to prevent COVID-19 and pneumonia. Your provider can tell you if you also need other vaccines, and when to get them.
  • 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.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have chest pain.
  • You have severe shortness of breath or trouble breathing.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You cough or spit up blood.
  • You are short of breath.
  • You have blue fingernails or toenails.
  • Your heartbeat is fast or not even.

When should I call my doctor?

  • 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.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Ā© Copyright IBM Corporation 2022 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotesĀ® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.