Diseases and Health Conditions That May Mimic Asthma

Asthma is a very common illness but there are many other diseases and health conditions that may mimic asthma.

Asthma is chronic inflammatory disease of respiratory tract characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction, and bronchospasm. Symptoms accompanying asthma attack include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, wheezing sound, and shortness of breath. Asthma attack is characterized by use of accessory muscles of respiration, paradoxical pulse, cyanosis, and over inflation of chest, but those symptoms will quickly disappears by bronchodilator regiment initiation. Diagnosis of asthma usually made based on pattern of symptoms and response to asthma treatment. But there are some other diseases and conditions that could mimic asthma, and could lead medical practitioner to wrong diagnosis. Identifying other diseases or conditions that mimic asthma is one of key factor for effective asthma management and health maintenance.

1. Allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis often mimics asthma attack, especially on infant and children patient. Allergic rhinitis is an allergic inflammation on nasal airways, characterized by rhinorrhea, nasal congestion, nasal obstruction, and nasal itching. Infant and younger allergic rhinitis patient usually become irritable and sometime suffers mild breath difficulty. But on physical examination we can’t find abnormal breath sound and there are no abnormal movements of accessory muscles of respiration on chest. On asthma attack we can easily find wheezing sound and chest inflation.   

2. Acute respiratory tract obstruction

Acute respiratory tract obstruction is mostly triggered by foreign body inhaled into respiratory track, especially on infant and children. Acute respiratory tract obstruction is characterized by sudden onset, cyanosis, dry cough, irritability, mild to severe breath difficulty as result of airflow obstruction, and use of accessory muscle of respiration as body response against airflow obstruction.  On physical examination we can heard stridor sound (harsh, hard pitched, and vibrating abnormal breath sound) on chest depends on location of foreign body in lung, while asthma is characterized by wheezing sound that can be heard easily on chest. Acute respiratory tract obstruction is a life threatening condition, and requires immediate emergency response.

3. Bronchiolitis obliterans

Bronchiolitis obliterans is a form of non-reversible obstructive lung disease because the small airway branches (bronchioles) are compressed and narrowed by inflammation and fibrosis. This condition leads to many symptoms that could mimic asthma, such as wheezing sound, breath shortness, and dry cough. Asthma is often misdiagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans, and it requires chest x-rays photo and pulmonary function test to make a right diagnosis. 

5. Congestive heart failure

Congestive heart failure is often mimic asthma, especially on older patient. Symptoms of congestive heart failure are tachypnea, increased work of breathing, and cyanosis. But congestive heart failure is characterized by slow onset, crackles sound on lung base, and pulmonary edema which could alters patient’s health condition permanently, while asthma is characterized by sudden onset and wheezing sound, without permanent health alteration.

6. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is an altered health conditions that characterized by shortness of breath because of permanent and progressive airway narrowing process, mostly caused by emphysema, chronic bronchitis and tobacco smoking. Symptoms of COPD are persistent cough, sputum production, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. COPD is characterized by slow onset, permanent chest enlargement, ronchi sound, and permanent lung damage, while asthma is characterized by sudden onset, wheezing sound, and without permanent lung damage.        

7. Other diseases and health conditions that may mimic asthma

There are many other diseases and health conditions that may mimic asthma, such as cystic fibrosis, vocal cord dysfunction, and medication induced breath shortness that may be misdiagnosed with asthma. Medical practitioner should check patient’s health previous health history, perform physical examination and pulmonary function test to diagnose asthma. 

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