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Bronchospasm - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Bronchospasm refers to the condition in which the muscles present in the airway are tightened. Read this article to learn about bronchospasm.

Written by

Dr. Sri Ramya M

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At November 3, 2022
Reviewed AtApril 26, 2023


Bronchospasm is a common condition in children and adults. Bronchospasm refers to the tightening of the muscles that line the airway. This causes narrowing of the airway and causes shortness of breath. It results in wheezing, coughing, and other symptoms. It occurs in asthma, chronic bronchitis, and anaphylaxis.

What Is Bronchospasm?

The main airway (trachea) branches off into the right and left primary bronchi into the lungs. The primary bronchus branches into secondary and tertiary bronchus in the lungs. The tertiary bronchus further divides into smaller bronchioles. This further divides into terminal bronchioles, which further divide into alveolar ducts associated with alveolar sacs. The bronchus and the bronchioles are lined with smooth muscles. Bronchospasm is the tightening of the muscles that line the bronchi and bronchioles, narrowing the airway and causing difficulty breathing.

How Does Bronchospasm Occur?

External stimulus triggers the constriction of the bronchial muscles. Mast cells and basophils are involved in constriction under the influence of anaphylatoxins. These cells release certain substances that constrict the airway. This results in narrowing the airways and increased mucus production, reducing the amount of oxygen essential for breathing. This leads to breathlessness, coughing, and hypoxia.

What Are the Effects of Bronchospasm?

Respiration comprises ventilation - breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide; diffusion - exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide at the alveoli of the lungs and pulmonary capillaries; and perfusion - pumping of blood with oxygen throughout the body. Bronchospasm interferes with the mechanism of respiration and disrupts the normal function of the respiratory system.

What Are the Causes of Bronchospasm?

Inflammation in the airway causes bronchospasm. It is common in people with asthma. Bronchospasm is a symptom of asthma, and it is different from asthma. Individuals with asthma can get bronchospasm, but everyone with bronchospasm does not get asthma. Other causes include:

  • Allergens like dust particles, pollen, mold, pet dander, and other allergens.

  • Conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, and emphysema.

  • Chemical fumes.

  • Environmental like pollution, smoke, fragrances, and odors.

  • During general anesthesia given in surgery.

  • Recurrent infections due to bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

  • Exercise.

  • Cold weather.

  • Inhalation of smoke from the fire.

  • Smoking.

  • In rare conditions, bronchodilators used for the treatment of bronchospasm worsen it.

  • Bronchospasm is the side effect of drugs like pilocarpine and beta blockers used to treat hypertension.

  • Topical decongestants like Oxymetazoline and Phenylephrine cause bronchospasm.

What Are the Symptoms?

The symptoms of bronchospasm appear suddenly. The symptoms include:

What Are the Complications of Bronchospasm?

Bronchospasm obstructs the airway and causes the following complications:

  • Pneumothorax - It occurs due to the leakage of air between the lungs and the chest wall resulting in the collapse of the lungs.

  • Pneumomediastinum - It is a condition wherein the air is present in the mediastinum due to injuries or other diseases.

  • Acute Respiratory Failure - It is a severe condition that occurs when fluids accumulate in the air sacs or alveoli of the lungs.

  • Hypoxia - It is a condition wherein insufficient amounts of oxygen are available to maintain the body's activities.

  • Hypercapnia - It is characterized by an elevation in partial pressure of carbon dioxide.

How Is Bronchospasm Diagnosed?

Lung function tests are performed to diagnose bronchospasm. They include:

  • Spirometry - The individual is asked to breathe into a tube connected to a spirometer device. It measures the force of the air breathed in and out.

  • Lung Volume Test - This test measures the amount of oxygen the lungs can hold.

  • Lung Diffusion Capacity Test - The individual is asked to breathe through a tube to measure the amount of oxygen that enters the blood. The hemoglobin level is also measured because it helps transport oxygen in the blood.

  • Pulse Oximetry - A pulse oximeter is clipped onto the fingers to measure the oxygen level in the blood.

  • Arterial Blood Gas Test - This test determines the levels of oxygen and carbon in the blood.

  • Escaping Voluntary Test - This test is used to diagnose exercise-induced bronchospasm. This is performed to assess if breathing in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide during exercise affects lung function.

  • Chest X-ray - It is used to diagnose pneumonia and the presence of other infections.

  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scan - This is used to diagnose bronchospasm and other abnormalities associated with lung function.

How Is Bronchospasm Treated?

Bronchospasm is usually managed with bronchodilators. It is available as inhalers, nebulizers, solutions, and tablets. Steroids are also prescribed to reduce inflammation in the airways.

  • Short-Acting Bronchodilators - This offers quick relief from bronchospasm symptoms. These short-acting drugs widen the airway within minutes, and the effects last up to six hours. Common short-acting bronchodilators are Terbutaline, Salbutamol, and Levosalbutamol.

  • Long-Acting Bronchodilators - These drugs do not offer immediate relief but reduce the occurrence of bronchospasm in the future. It exerts action after a long time, but the effect lasts up to twelve hours. Commonly used long-acting bronchodilators are Salmeterol, Formoterol, and Vilanterol. Other long-acting bronchodilators include anticholinergics that are available in short-acting (Ipratropium) and long-acting forms (Umeclidinium and Aclidinium) of inhalers.

  • Steroids - Steroids are given to reduce inflammation in the airways. They are used with inhalers. It is given as tablets or via an intravenous route in severe cases of bronchospasm.

Can Bronchospasm Be Treated at Home?

Bronchospasm cannot be treated with home remedies. If bronchospasm occurs for the first time, it is important to consult the doctor immediately for treatment. Short-acting bronchodilators are given to ease the symptoms.

How to Prevent Bronchospasm?

Bronchospasm cannot be prevented, but certain measures can be followed to reduce the risk of occurrence. This include:

  • Avoid smoking.

  • Stay hydrated.

  • Warm up before exercise.

  • Limit exercise during allergies.

  • Limit exercise in cold conditions.

What to Expect With Bronchospasm?

Bronchospasm lasts between seven and fourteen days. If not treated at the right time, the symptoms are life-threatening. But, with proper treatment, symptoms subside within a few minutes. Short-acting bronchodilators are given to relieve the symptoms, and long-acting bronchodilators are given to prevent the occurrence of bronchospasm. A short-acting drug should be used immediately on developing bronchospasm. Emergency help is needed in the following situations:


Bronchospasm is a treatable condition. Symptoms of bronchospasm can be severe and life-threatening. Individuals with respiratory conditions like asthma, COPD, and chronic bronchitis are more prone to bronchospasm. It is important to consult a doctor if the symptoms interfere with daily activities. Untreated bronchospasm causes inevitable symptoms. Early diagnosis and intervention can prevent the risk of complications.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Does a Bronchospasm Feel?

When someone experiences bronchospasm, the chest feels tight, and they may feel as if they cannot catch their breath. Chest tightness and breathing difficulty are the other indications of bronchospasm.


What Is the Best Way to Relieve a Bronchospasm?

Bronchodilators are typically used to treat bronchospasm. Bronchodilators that function quickly provide relief for bronchospasm symptoms. These drugs can open the airways in minutes and have an impact that lasts up to six hours. Albuterol and Levalbuterol are two examples of short-acting bronchodilators.


Is Bronchospasm an Inflammatory Condition?

Bronchospasm can be caused by any swelling or irritation in the airways. People with asthma are frequently affected by this illness. Bronchospasm can occur in people who have asthma, although not everyone who has bronchospasm has asthma. Both disorders are caused by inflamed or irritated airways.


What Medications Cause Bronchospasm?

Various medicines can cause bronchospasms. Beta-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, cholinesterase inhibitors, and inhalational drugs are among the most common medications known to cause bronchospasm or cough.


Is Bronchospasm a Fatal Condition?

Bronchospasm occurs when the smooth muscle layers of the narrow airways constrict. Bronchospasm, if left untreated, can lead to respiratory discomfort and, eventually, respiratory failure. It can result in hypoxia, hypotension, and increased morbidity and death.


Is Bronchospasm a Painful Condition?

Bronchospasm is not a painful condition. It is a physiological response in which the muscles around the airways in the lungs (bronchi and bronchioles) contract, causing the airways to constrict. This constriction can cause breathing difficulties, wheezing, and a tight feeling in the chest.


Can Bronchospasm Be Caused by Stress?

Stress can exacerbate asthma symptoms. Additionally, studies have revealed that the immune system gets triggered and that specific hormones are released as a result of the body's reaction to stress. This may result in inflammation of the lungs' airways, leading to an asthma attack and bronchospasm.


Is Bronchospasm Curable?

Bronchodilators are usually used to treat bronchospasm. Short-acting beta2-agonists are the bronchodilators that are used the most frequently. The additional medications used include long-acting bronchodilators, inhaled steroids, and oral or intravenous steroids.


What Should Someone Drink to Relieve Bronchospasm?

Even though particular drinks might not directly treat bronchospasm, staying hydrated can support the maintenance of general respiratory health. It is crucial to concentrate on remaining well-hydrated with water and other non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages when coping with bronchospasm or other respiratory difficulties.


What Is the Most Effective Treatment for Acute Bronchospasm?

Bronchodilators are typically the first step in bronchospasm treatment. Short-acting bronchodilators are prescribed by doctors to treat sudden, severe spasms as well as spasms brought on by activity. Inhalers, nebulizer solutions, and tablets are the dosage forms of this drug.


What Happens If a Patient Does Not Treat Bronchospasm?

Severe bronchospasm can be fatal if left untreated. However, with immediate action, symptoms typically go away. Bronchospasm can develop into respiratory discomfort and then respiratory failure if it is not managed effectively. 


What Is the Injection Used to Treat Bronchospasm?

A subcutaneous injection of β2-adrenergic drug (such as Terbutaline) may be beneficial for treating bronchospasm. Intravenous epinephrine is the treatment of choice for severe and life-threatening bronchospasm.
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)


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