Clinical reports suggest that various emotions and types of stress can precipitate asthmatic symptoms, but there is little experimental evidence to substantiate this claim. We studied the impact of different emotional states and stress on respiratory resistance in asthmatic and nonasthmatic individuals.
Participants (24 asthmatic and 24 nonasthmatic patients) viewed short film sequences selected to induce anxiety, anger, depression, elation, happiness, contentment, or a neutral affective state and completed two stressful tasks, mental arithmetic to induce active coping efforts and viewing of medical slides to induce passive coping efforts. Oscillatory resistance, heart rate, blood pressure, baroreflex sensitivity, skin conductance level, respiration rate and volume, and self-reported affective state were measured throughout the session.
Uniform increases in oscillatory resistance were found in all emotional states compared with the neutral state and during mental arithmetic in both groups. Asthmatic patients showed stronger reactions to the medical slides than healthy control subjects, with significant increases in oscillatory resistance, blood pressure, skin conductance level, and minute volume, as well as higher levels of self-reported depression, arousal, and shortness of breath. Changes in oscillatory resistance were inconsistently correlated with other physiological indices.
Various emotional states and stress increase oscillatory resistance largely independently of concurrent increases in autonomic or ventilatory activity. The particular sensitivity of asthmatics to passive coping demand requires additional research.