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Airway constriction is also known as bronchoconstriction. It involves tightening of the airways in the lungs, due to constriction in the surrounding smooth muscles. When airway constriction occurs, the affected individual may experience coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing. Airway constriction most often occurs as a symptom of asthma or emphysema. Individuals who are otherwise healthy may experience airway constriction as a reaction to exercise or allergens.
In individuals with emphysema, the airway constriction occurs because of the excess amount of thick mucus in the airways, which blocks the flow of air. Individuals with emphysema must stop smoking. They will be taught breathing techniques to maximize airflow. Individuals with emphysema can exhaust themselves trying to get enough air through their constricted lungs, and may experience panic attacks due to the feeling of not being able to breathe.
Individuals may also experience exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, which is more commonly called exercised-induced asthma, although it is not the same as asthma. Exercised-induced bronchoconstriction occurs when the airway becomes constricted during exercise. It is believed that this occurs in sensitive individuals when they breath in a large amount of cool, dry air. Exercising when the air is body temperature and has a higher humidity can reduce the incidence of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. Exercise-induced broncoconstriction can occur in anyone, of any age, however it is more common in individuals who have asthma.
Allergen-induced bronchoconstriction is similar to exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, except the trigger is exposure to an allergen, such as pollen. The body produces an immunological response, which constricts the airways.