Itchy Lung: What’s The Deal?
Last updated: September 2022
Sometimes it feels like I have itchy lungs, but this doesn’t happen with all asthma attacks. It’s sort of a “sometimes” symptom. I like to refer to it as an unusual asthma symptoms. So, what’s the deal with this itchy lung feeling anyway?
What do itchy lungs feel like for someone with asthma?
For the longest time, I didn’t know how to explain it. Then, one day, as I was having an asthma attack, an idea popped into my head. This is where it comes in handy to have an active imagination.
The tickling feeling feels like microscopic people made their way inside your lungs. And each of these people is holding feathers. And they are using those feathers to tickle your airways.
This is how I explained it to myself when I was a kid.
When did I experience this “tickling” feeling?
Not always. It was not a symptom of all asthma attacks. Initially, the only time I experienced it was when I forgot to take my theophylline. You see, I was chronically dependent on theophylline for over 30 years.
And theophylline is in the same family of medicine as caffeine. So, you know what happens when you drink coffee every day and then you forget for a couple of days: you go through a withdrawal period. Well, when I forgot to take my theophylline for a couple of days, a withdrawal symptom was that itchy feeling.1
At first, I didn’t understand it. Often I’d ignore it. I did not know it was an early warning symptom of asthma. And, when I ignored it, a severe asthma attack would result. My chest would itch like crazy. I could feel the phlegm in my airways. It was a type II asthma attack.
Eventually, I learned that forgetting to take my theophylline caused these symptoms. I learned when I felt it to take my medicine. And it was because of this that I figured I’d never been able to get off theophylline.
But, eventually, I did get off theophylline, thanks to combination medicine like Advair, Symbicort, Dulera, and Breo. After starting those medicines, I was gradually able to wean myself off theophylline.
When do I feel that “itchy lung” today?
Thanks to improved asthma control, my lungs don't feel itchy as often. And when I do feel it, it’s not as severe as it was, say, 20 years ago.
Today, I appropriately recognize it as an early warning symptom of asthma. And when I get it, it’s usually when exposed to lots of dust mites. And that’s where I came up with the dust mite metaphor as noted above.
So, what causes itchy lungs?
I have some hypotheses:
- Bronchospasm. What happens during asthma attacks? Bronchial smooth muscles wrapped around airways twitch and spasm. They constrict and squeeze airways. This is what causes shortness of breath.2 Is it possible that when this happens it causes that tickling feeling? Some may describe it as chest tightness or pressure. But for some of us, it feels tickly or itchy.
- Hypersecretion. We asthmatics also have lots of mucus glands and goblet cells. When exposed to asthma triggers they secrete lots of mucus. This mucus may obstruct airways to cause shortness of breath.3 Is it possible that it may also act to create that ticklish feeling?
What to make of this?
Thankfully, today my asthma is well controlled. Still, I feel this itchy sensation when exposed to some of my asthma triggers. It’s usually one of my earliest symptoms. So, when I experience it, I know something’s up. I remove myself from whatever I’m up to. For instance, if I’m cleaning I quit cleaning.
Have you experienced itchy lung due to your asthma? I'd love to hear about your experience.
How often do you experience a shortage in your asthma medication?