The ADHD – Asthma Connection
ADHD can take your breath away. Literally.
One of the most surprising and confusing things I learned after my ADHD diagnosis was that kids with ADD have more colds, respiratory infections, ear infections, asthma and allergies. (Apparently quite a few of us are allergic to homework too, but that’s purely anecdotal).
All these physical maladies seem kind of weird for a psychiatric condition, don’t you think? But don’t get me started…
In researching the ADHD – asthma connection, I discovered that the research was inconsistent. Until recently, that is: new studies, including several large ones in the USA, seem to confirm a significant connection between ADHD and asthma.
A Norwegian study published in August 2011 concludes that adults with ADHD are more than twice as likely to suffer from asthma.
The 2011 study used a large sample size of 594 adults with ADHD, compared with 719 adults from the general population.
The reasons why ADHDers suffer more from asthma aren’t clear, but the Norwegian researchers make some interesting connections and offer intriguing hypotheses.
The anxiety and mood disorder connection
Mood and anxiety disorders are more common in adults with ADHD and asthmatics.
It’s well-established that most of us with ADHD also have at least one co-occurring disorder. Ranking highest amongst these are: anxiety disorders, depression and bipolar disorder.
What I hadn’t realized is that people with asthma also suffer a higher incidence of the same mood and anxiety disorders.
The research also showed that women with ADHD had a significantly higher prevalence of asthma compared with the male ADHDers.
This seems to make sense, as more women than men are diagnosed with mood disorders in general, and women with ADHD are often diagnosed with these as well as bipolar disorder.
(I wish I could remember my university logic course: If A = B, and B = C, then if you’re a woman with ADHD and anxiety you’ve probably got a puffer too, or something like that).
The tobacco connection
The authors of the Norwegian study also point to the higher incidence of smoking in adults with ADHD. While smoking hasn’t been proven as a cause of asthma, both passive smoking in childhood and prenatal exposure does put kids and adults at an increased risk for asthma.
And who smokes way more than the non-ADHD population? You got it: teens and adults with ADHD. The plot (and the air) thickens.
The dopamine connection
It’s been widely hypothesized that ADHD brains don’t regulate dopamine as well as others. And guess what? There are dopaminergic receptors in sensory nerves in the airways as well.
Just as adults with ADHD are always after their next dopamine fix (dopamine increases focus, alertness, sustained thought, effort and motivation), inhaling dopamine induces bronchodilation during an acute asthma attack. Maybe that’s another thing ADHDers and asthmatics have in common: wonky dopamine systems.
The obesity connection
I’ve written before about the connection between obesity and adult ADHD. What I didn’t know is that asthma is also associated with obesity; being obese is a risk factor for the development of asthma.
Obviously, there’s lots more to learn. But given all these connections (and possible connections) it’s a wonder that we ADHDers aren’t a wheezing, asthmatic bunch.
If you do have asthma, I’d highly recommend NOT crawling off to sleep in the bath (mold) or lighting a fire (woodsmoke) any time soon.
For more information, read the study as referenced below.
Adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is associated with asthma. Ole B. Fasmer, Anne Halmøy, Tomas M. Eagan, Ketil J. Oedegaard, and Jan Haavik. 2011. Biomed Central Psychiatry 11:128.
Kessler, Z. (2012). The ADHD – Asthma Connection. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 4, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/adhd-zoe/2012/08/the-adhd-asthma-connection/