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What Causes Asthma Itch?

So, I wrote an article called, “Itchy Lung What’s The Deal?” In that article, I explained asthma itch. Asthma researchers tend to refer to it as “Prodromal Itching.” It’s when your chin and neck itch during or just prior to asthma attacks.

After the article was published to our Facebook page, a community member (one of you) asked:

“Yes, my chin, neck, and back will itch just before an attack. I always thought it was due to my asthma issues. Is there a reason why this occurs?

Yes. The itching may involve more than just the chin. Your head may itch. Like, just under the skin. Your chest may itch. Your lungs may appear to itch. So, there are different sensations of itching. It can take place in other areas other than your chin and neck.

So, why might this itch happen?

There are a couple of theories here.

  1. Unknown Etiology. The cause remains unknown. It remains a mystery even to the best experts, researchers, scientists, and physicians. They simply do not know what causes prodromal itching. This is the most common theory. This is the humble theory.
  2. Histamine Itch. This theory postulates that allergies trigger that itchy feeling that precedes asthma attacks. Exposure to allergens causes an increase in histamine. So, it’s surmised that elevated histamine levels are responsible for that itchy chin and neck.1

These theories may also help explain itchy lung.

That’s basically all we have as far as theories. Or, it’s all I can find. Perhaps one of you has access to some better theories. If so, please do share in the comments below.

Experiencing the itch as a kid

The “Asthma Itch” is very interesting to me. It’s interesting because I experienced it as a kid. The first time I shared this symptom was during an asthma education class at National Jewish Hospital/ National Asthma Center in 1985.

The topic of one class was “Early Asthma Warning Symptoms.” We were asked to list our own early warning symptoms on a sheet of paper. We were then asked to share our early warning symptoms with the other kid asthmatics in the group. Many of the symptoms were shared by all of us. But, a few symptoms was unique to me: “Itchy chin and neck.”

This was the first time I learned that we all have our own “unique” asthma symptoms. We all have “unusual” asthma symptoms.

I never thought much else of it until about 30 years later. I was researching for my “Asthma History Blog.” And I came upon a book by Dr. Henry Hyde Salter. His book was titled “On Asthma: It’s Pathology And Treatment.” What a great book about asthma.

Dr. Salter described asthma so explicitly. In fact, he was the first doctor to write such a detailed book on asthma, hence the title. This is probably why it became THE most famous asthma book of the 2nd half of the 19th century. And, as you make it to page 38, you will see that he described our topic for today: “Asthma Itch.”

He wrote:

“One curious symptom of asthma, which I have found present in a large number of cases (I am not sure it is not universally present), but which I have never seen noticed in any treatise on the subject, is itching under the chin. I have often known that the breathing of asthmatics was tight, and told them so, from seeing them scratching and rubbing their chins. The itching is incessant, and of an indefinite, creeping character; but although it is impossible to help scratching it, the scratching does not relieve it. It is often accompanied with the same itching sensation over the sternum and between the shoulders, especially between the shoulders. It appears the moment the first tightness of breathing is felt and goes off when the paroxysm has become confirmed…”2

He went on to describe some theories. He said it may be associated with inflammation and bronchospasm. He also noted:

“But I think it is the most strongly marked of all in the asthma that accompanies hay fever.”2

Of course, now we define hay fever as allergies. And now we have an asthma subgroup called Allergic Asthma. This is the most common asthma subgroup. So, if true, this would confirm our modern theory that histamine causes it, since histamine causes your allergy symptoms.

But, there are people without allergies who also experience the asthma itch. So, could histamine also cause the asthma itch in these asthmatics? Or, does this drive us back to theory #1, that the cause is of unknown etiology?

What to make of this?

Basically, it’s neat to learn that you are not alone if you experience “The Asthma Itch.” And if you’re curious why it happens, it’s possible it might be histamine causing it. It’s also possible the cause is something else entirely. So, what do you think? Do you experience the asthma itch? What do you think causes it? Let us know in the comments below.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. “Asthma Itch,” Clinical Advisor, https://www.clinicaladvisor.com/advisor-forum/asthmatic-itch/article/117885/, accessed 1/17/19
  2. Salter, Henry Hyde, “On Asthma: It’s Pathology And Treatment,” 1882, New York, William Wood & Company, page 38

Comments

  • LHBurks207
    4 months ago

    My spine down my back itches and no matter what I do it doesn’t go away when I have an asthma attack.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    4 months ago

    Hi LHBurks207 and thanks for chiming in here in response to John’s article. Once the asthma attack is treated and you’re feeling more normal. does the back itch resolve? Leon (site moderator)

  • Shellzoo
    4 months ago

    Usually my chin, throat and lungs itch but this last flare-up I had started with my ears itching. I sorta thought when my ears were itching maybe my asthma was going to flare-up but thought I was over thinking it. Of course a few hours later I was racing to get my Ventolin inhaler. Since I had been around a cat and my cat allergy seems more severe, I am thinking my allergies triggered the itching. Before my asthma started, my chin would always itch and sometimes get hives when I was around allergens.

  • John Bottrell, RRT moderator author
    4 months ago

    Oh, I can definitely relate. For me it’s my entire head sometimes itches. I’m convinced such itching is a classic sign that you’re allergic to something around you and you best get away. John. Site Moderator.

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