Study involved mimicking asthma symptoms to see how anxiety sensitivity affected asthma sufferers.
Anxiety sensitivity, in simple terms, is a fear of fear. But when people with anxiety sensitivity also have asthma, their suffering can be far more debilitating and dangerous, because they have difficulty managing their asthma. A new study explores this issue and recommends treatment to help decrease asthma symptoms.
The study by Alison McLeish, a University of Cincinnati associate professor of psychology, Christina Luberto, a recent doctoral graduate from UC and clinical fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Emily O’Bryan, a graduate student in the UC Department of Psychology, will be presented at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) 49th Annual Convention. The convention takes place Nov. 12-15 in Chicago.
The researchers recruited 101 college undergraduates who reported having asthma. The experiment aimed to mimic asthma symptoms by having study participants breathe in-and-out through a narrow straw, about the width of a coffee-stirrer straw.
As expected, people who reported higher anxiety sensitivity not only reported greater anxiety during the straw-breathing task, but also experienced greater asthma symptoms and decreased lung function. “Anxiety sensitivity not only helps explain why we see higher rates of anxiety disorders, but also why anxiety is associated with poorer asthma outcomes,” says McLeish.
As a result, the study recommended interventions for anxiety sensitivity – such as exposure therapy – aimed at reducing the anxiety.
Safety controls were in place during the straw-breathing exercise and all participants were required to have their inhalers with them in case they experienced an asthma attack. Students were told they could stop at any time during the straw-breathing exercise.
About this psychobiology research
The UC presentation at the ABCT Convention is part of a Nov. 14 symposium titled, “Motivation Escape and Avoidant Coping: The Impact of Distress Intolerance on Health Behaviors.”
Funding: Funding for the research was supported by the University Research Council at UC.
Source: Dawn Fuller – University of Cincinnati Image Source: The image is credited to the NIH and is in the public domain Original Research:Abstract for “Anxiety Sensitivity and Reactivity to Asthma-Like Sensations Among Young Adults With Asthma” by Alison C. McLeish, Christina M. Luberto, and Emily M. O’Bryan in Behavior Modification. Published online September 24 2015 doi:10.1177/0145445515607047
Anxiety Sensitivity and Reactivity to Asthma-Like Sensations Among Young Adults With Asthma
Anxiety sensitivity, particularly the physical concerns domain, is associated with more problematic asthma symptoms and greater functional limitations. It has been theorized that anxiety sensitivity fosters greater reactivity to asthma-related physical sensations; however, this theory has yet to be empirically tested. Thus, the present investigation sought to examine the role of anxiety sensitivity–physical concerns in terms of affective and physical reactivity to asthma-like symptoms. Participants were 101 undergraduates with asthma (76.2% female, Mage = 19.69 years, SD = 3.77 years, range = 18-49 years) who completed self-report measures and a straw-breathing task. Results indicated that after controlling for the effects of gender, asthma control (i.e., how well one’s asthma symptoms are managed or controlled), and negative affectivity, greater levels of anxiety sensitivity–physical concerns significantly predicted greater anxiety (4.7% unique variance) and asthma symptoms (6.9% unique variance) and lower levels of lung function (4.4% unique variance) after the straw-breathing task. These findings suggest that individuals with asthma who are fearful of physiological arousal are a particularly “at-risk” population for poor asthma outcomes because of this greater reactivity and could benefit from interventions targeting anxiety sensitivity.
“Anxiety Sensitivity and Reactivity to Asthma-Like Sensations Among Young Adults With Asthma” by Alison C. McLeish, Christina M. Luberto, and Emily M. O’Bryan in Behavior Modification. Published online September 24 2015 doi:10.1177/0145445515607047