Bronchospasm – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment


Bronchospasm is spasm (medical term spasm) of the smooth part of the muscles of the bronchi. Bronchospasm often develops as part of irritation of the airways, such as allergies or the ingestion of toxic substances. In addition, bronchospasms often appear in so-called obstructive diseases of the lungs, for example in asthma or COPD.

What is bronchospasm?

In connection with the bronchospasm, the muscles in the bronchial area contract. This is primarily smooth muscle that surrounds the airways. Various causes lead to the occurrence of bronchospasm, for example, exposure to special vapors or asthma .

As a result of the spasm, the muscles located in the bronchial area contract. This reduces the width of the airways and the breathing resistance increases. Consequently, airway obstruction develops. For this reason there is also an association between bronchospasm and obstructive diseases of the lungs.

Due to the increased resistance to breathing, the lungs are either not supplied with sufficient air or are overinflated. If the bronchospasm lasts too long, hypertrophy develops in the muscles of the bronchi.


Bronchospasm is triggered by various potential influencing factors. In the majority of cases, these are external factors. For example, chemical or physical irritation can be a trigger. Certain types of medicinal substances are also capable of provoking bronchospasm. These include primarily antibiotic agents that release the substance histamine , as well as opiates.

In addition, certain patient groups suffer particularly frequently from bronchospasm. The increased susceptibility to the phenomenon is primarily evident in people with asthma, acute respiratory diseases and smokers. People with COPD , certain allergies and allergic rhinitis are also particularly at risk.

Bronchospasm also occurs in many cases, for example, when people inhale smoke or vapor. In addition, the bronchospasm may be triggered by surgery in the area of ​​the airways. Sometimes the cause of the bronchospasm is a so-called endotracheal intubation, which is carried out with insufficient anesthesia.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The symptoms of bronchospasm, as well as their severity, vary. In principle, bronchospasm causes the bronchial areas or the surrounding smooth muscles to narrow. As a result, a sufficient amount of air does not get into the affected person’s lungs. The patients initially suffer from shortness of breath .

The sudden occurrence of this phenomenon often causes sufferers to panic, resulting in hyperventilation . Because of the narrowed airways, an increase in breathing rate is necessary to inhale the required air. If the air passes through the constricted area, a whistling sound is also produced when exhaling. In addition, the affected patients suffer from an insatiable cough .

In connection with this, people often throw up phlegm. As a result, breathing becomes even more difficult because the mucus blocks the airways. There is pain in the chest and airways. Many patients feel a strong pressure or have the feeling of bruises in the chest area. The symptoms of bronchospasm usually worsen with increasing panic among those affected.

Movement and outbursts of sweat often have a negative effect on the course of bronchospasm. In addition to the actual bronchospasm, there is also a so-called fake bronchospasm. This occurs, for example, when people breathe in foreign substances, suffer from a pulmonary embolism or edema , or a ventilation tube is kinked.

Diagnosis & History

In the case of severe bronchospasm, some people call the emergency doctor, who then makes the diagnosis. To determine the disease, the doctor is guided by the typical symptoms of bronchospasm. Evidence such as increased breathing resistance and characteristic noises when exhaling indicate bronchospasm.

In principle, rapid diagnosis and treatment of bronchospasm are of great importance. Because with long-lasting bronchospasm there is a risk of so-called hypercapnia , during which the concentration of carbon dioxide in the blood increases. In addition, hypoxia is possible, in which the tissue is no longer sufficiently supplied with oxygen.


Bronchospasm arises from various causes, which can lead to various complications. For example, people with an allergy are particularly susceptible to narrowing of the airways. A certain substance causes the airways to swell and become blocked, the affected person can hardly breathe and threatens to suffocate. Due to the anatomical proximity to the esophagus, the patient also has problems swallowing .

In addition, due to the allergic reaction, the deeper layers of the skin can swell, resulting in Quincke’s edema, which can aggravate the symptoms even more. In the worst cases, there is a sharp drop in blood pressure, which means that several organs are no longer supplied with sufficient blood and anaphylactic shock occurs. As a result, the organs can fail and pose further problems for the person concerned.

Similar complications can also occur in asthma. Status asthmaticus is particularly feared here, in which even anti-asthmatics do not help and the affected person threatens to suffocate. An ambulance should be called immediately.

Respiratory tract infection can also cause bronchial constriction. In some cases, the inflammation can spread to the lungs and cause inflammation there (pneumonia). In the worst cases, the inflammation can spread systemically, i.e. sepsis.

When should you go to the doctor?

A newly occurring bronchospasm should always be clarified by a doctor, as it is a symptom of many chronic and acute diseases. In addition, a fake bronchospasm can indicate damage to the lungs or air in the pleural cavity.

The actions of those affected are largely determined by the effects of the cramp. If it is a weak restriction with shortness of breath and coughing that will pass again, an emergency doctor is not necessary. Sufferers should find a resting position in which they can cough up and see a doctor when the bronchospasm subsides.

Bronchospasm that causes pain and severe shortness of breath may require calling an ambulance. There are bronchospasms, which are further aggravated by the onset of hyperventilation, mucus formation and spasms and bring with them the danger of suffocation.

People with chronic illnesses that lead to increased airway spasms will experience them more often. If they have a flare-up, they have to assess for themselves whether an ambulance needs to be called. However, if the generally perceived condition of the respiratory tract deteriorates due to more frequent or more severe spasms, it is necessary to seek medical advice from the doctor treating you.

Treatment & Therapy

The options for treating bronchospasm vary, with the choice of specific measures being based in particular on the severity of the bronchospasm. It is possible, for example, that the affected patients are ventilated manually. As a result, they receive high concentrations of oxygen.

If the bronchospasm occurs during a surgical procedure, it may help to give the person more general anesthesia. Anesthetic agents such as ketamine are useful for this purpose. So-called beta-2 mimetics are able to dilate the bronchi and alleviate the symptoms of bronchospasm.

Outlook & Forecast

Bronchospasm has a favorable prognosis with prompt medical care. With drug treatment, the symptoms are alleviated within a short period of time. The spasms of the muscles are relieved so that the person concerned can breathe normally again. If there are no other basic or secondary symptoms, you are free of symptoms.

The bronchospasm can recur at any time. The more frequently it occurs, the higher the risk of suffering further damage. The prospect of a cure decreases significantly once the patient is compromised by a chronic lung disease.

In these cases, damage to the tissue has already occurred, leading to irreparable development. In addition to breathing difficulties, functional disorders can occur or there is a risk of organ failure. This is associated with a life-threatening condition for the patient. At this stage, the patient is only helped by an organ transplant , which in turn is associated with side effects and risks.

An anxiety disorder can develop due to the sudden onset of bronchospasm . The muscle spasm leads to unexpected shortness of breath. This triggers the fear of death by suffocation. A panic attack or panic disorder can also develop. This has an immense impact on the general sense of health. The undersupply of the organism with oxygen can also trigger secondary diseases and thus have a negative impact on the chance of recovery.


Bronchospasm can be prevented to a certain extent, although cases of illness cannot be completely avoided even with preventive measures. People with an increased risk of bronchospasm are given certain preventive medication before surgery. Beta-2 mimetics are used here. If possible, the treating physicians only regionally anesthetize the area to be operated on during a surgical procedure.


After a bronchospasm has occurred, there are usually no further symptoms. The patient can breathe normally again and go about his life. Fast emergency aid for recovery proves to be beneficial. Aftercare is unnecessary. However, there is no immunity.

A recurring illness for the same or another reason is possible at any time. In principle, increased occurrence requires continuous aftercare because the probability of chronic damage increases. The doctor diagnoses an acute illness based on the typical breathing difficulties.

So far, there are hardly any ways to prevent bronchospasm. It often occurs in combination with other diseases of the respiratory tract. Patients at risk are informed about health-preserving behavior as part of the initial therapy. This includes, above all, protection. Strenuous activities should be avoided at all costs. A healthy and balanced diet is advisable. Nicotine consumption should be stopped.

Follow-up care also aims to rule out complications. Patients at risk include allergy sufferers and asthmatics. Medicines for shortness of breath and shortness of breath can help you. Regular intake reduces the likelihood of spasms in the bronchial muscles. Only minor restrictions have to be accepted in professional and private life.

You can do that yourself

If a bronchospasm is suspected, the emergency services must be called immediately and informed about the situation using W-questions. First aid measures must be taken before the emergency doctor arrives .

The first step is to calm the patient down, provide him with warm blankets and loosen tight clothing. The upper body must be positioned upwards and the legs positioned low. If the affected person is asthmatic, appropriate asthma medication should be used to treat the bronchospasm. If the person is unconscious, they must be placed in a stable lateral position .

If possible, breathing and pulse should then be checked regularly. If necessary, resuscitation measures must be taken. In addition to mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and – provided you have the appropriate expertise – a tracheotomy are recommended. The emergency doctor must be informed about the measures taken and the state of health of the person concerned in order to ensure rapid treatment.

After the treatment in the hospital, bed rest and rest apply to the person concerned. Along with this, it is necessary to establish the causes of the bronchospasm. In most cases, this and a consultation with your family doctor can prevent further seizures.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.