Migraine and asthma are comorbid chronic disorders with episodic attacks involving both inflammatory and neurological mechanisms. According to the American Lung Association, more than 25 million Americans are living with asthma.
Asthma happens when airways narrow and swell, producing extra mucus, which makes breathing difficult and triggers coughing and wheezing. While mild for some people, for others asthma can interfere with daily activities and even lead to a life-threatening attack. Situations that might cause an attack include, but are not limited to, exercise, illness, occupational triggers, or environmental allergies.
Understanding this connection is important as one study reported people with occasional migraine attacks may be at greater risk of developing chronic migraine if they also have asthma. Researchers found that those diagnosed with asthma were more than twice as likely to progress to chronic migraine compared to those without asthma. Also, the risk of worsening migraine increases with the severity of asthma symptoms. Another study found that migraine was associated with 54% increased prevalence and 42% greater risk of asthma—and vice versa—with asthma associated with 45% increased prevalence and 47% greater risk of migraine.
According to the Allergy and Asthma Network, common asthma triggers include:
- Indoor allergens: mold, pet dander, dust mites, cockroaches
- Outdoor allergens: pollen, mold
- Irritants: secondhand smoke, diesel exhaust, air pollution
- Respiratory viruses: colds, flu, sinus infections
- Cold air or sudden changes in temperature
- Strong smells
- Strong emotions
- Hormonal changes
For people with migraine, this list probably looks quite familiar because several of these asthma triggers are known to trigger migraine attacks as well. Overlapping triggers include changes in barometric pressure, exercise, fragrances, environmental irritants, stress, cold air, strong emotions, humidity and hormones.
What to Do
Ask anyone who has ever struggled to breathe, and they will tell you asthma is no laughing matter. First and foremost, if you suspect you have asthma, seek professional help with a doctor who specializes in treating the disorder. In addition to a primary care physician, this might include a visit to an allergist or pulmonologist. Your physician will likely conduct a series of tests including lung function tests (to determine if you have the condition and its severity), imaging tests and allergy tests.
While there is no cure for asthma, there are steps you can take to keep it under control:
- Develop an asthma action plan with your doctor.
- Take your medications.
- Get vaccinated for flu and pneumonia.
- Identify and avoid asthma triggers.
- Monitor your breathing and recognize the warning signs of an impending attack.
- Identify and treat attacks early, which can lessen their severity.
- Monitor increased use of quick-relief inhalers, which can indicate your asthma is not controlled.
Don’t forget self-care, which is so important when dealing with asthma, migraine, and other comorbid conditions. Get regular sleep and exercise (unless exercise is an asthma trigger for you). Stay hydrated. And manage your stress!
Tell us! Do you have asthma and migraine? Does one seem to aggravate the other? What tips do you have for dealing with these comorbid conditions?
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