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A bronchial spasm, also known as a bronchospasm, is a sudden and abnormal constriction of the smooth muscles in the walls of the bronchioles. This constriction then causes an acute narrowing of the respiratory airways. This can be caused by a number of things, but most often is the result of allergies, chronic respiratory diseases, or infection.
Bronchospasms occur when the passages that lead to the lungs become narrow or blocked due to the muscles contracting, or a sudden inflammation of the lining of the lungs. During inflammation, the lungs may create excess mucus, which will cause a further narrowing in the airways. A bronchial spasm is generally sudden, and may be mild to severe.
The symptoms of a bronchial spasm may vary from person to person in severity and duration. Most people will experience shortness of breath and a tightness or pain in the chest. Others may develop wheezing and a frequent cough that may or may not be productive. Depending upon the severity of the case, some people may be affected by only a few symptoms, while others may experience them all.
Those who suffer from long-standing conditions such as asthma are considered more at risk for a bronchial spasm than others. There are, however, a number of other reasons why a person may develop this condition. Two of the most common causes are allergies and irritants. Mold, pollen, and pet dander typically cause a sudden reaction, but foods such as nuts or shellfish can cause a problem as well. Irritants such as smoke, aerosol sprays, or chemicals may also create a bronchospasm.
In addition to external factors and health conditions, things such as exercise, infection, and emotional trauma may cause a bronchial spasm to occur. Those who are already prone to lung ailments are more likely to develop a bronchospasm during exercise, but other factors such as cold weather may also trigger bronchial issues. Viral and bacterial infections of the respiratory tract may cause the airways to narrow suddenly. High stress or fear can also occasionally lead to a constriction of the airways, though this sometimes occurs over time instead of suddenly.
Most bronchial spasms are treated with an inhaler to help open the airways. The patient may also receive an expectorant to help clear away mucus, or a cough suppressant if the cough is non-productive. Antibiotics may be prescribed if the bronchospasm is the result of a respiratory infection.