Okay, so you’ve been having trouble breathing for a while, your chest is tight, you find yourself wheezing, and you’re convinced you are suffering from asthma.
Asthma is a fairly common disease affecting the lungs and the airways, and it could very well be at the root of your breathing problems.
But what if it’s not?
What if your lung and breathing issues are caused by a disease similar to asthma, but that is not asthma? What then?
Well, you first need to obtain an accurate diagnosis, which is easier said than done.
As long as you feel that your health and, indeed, your life isn’t in immediate danger, there’s no need to go to the hospital.
A visit to the doctor’s surgery the next morning should see you right, but your mind won’t be set at ease until you have a rough idea of which disease is affecting your breathing.
That’s why for today’s article, we’re compiling a list of common lung conditions that mimic the effects of asthma but are not asthma at all.
8 Lung Conditions That Mimic Asthma
So, which diseases or health issues could be causing you these issues? That’s what we are hopefully going to find out now.
Take a look at these examples of common lung conditions which are very similar to asthma and see if any of them sound familiar to you.
1- Bronchitis – The first condition we will be looking at today is Bronchitis. Bronchitis is a disease that affects the bronchi in your windpipe.
The bronchi are tubes attached to the windpipe, and this condition occurs due to inflammation.
When the bronchi swell up and become infected, your body responds by producing additional mucus. It is trying to help, but ironically, it is this extra mucus that causes the problems.
As you know, when you have too much mucus, your body tries to expel it, and you end up coughing and wheezing. There are two forms of bronchitis.
There are acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis. Acute bronchitis is the less severe of the two, and it normally only lasts a week or two. It normally occurs after a cold.
Chronic bronchitis is the one to watch, as this lasts for months and causes severe coughing and trouble breathing. Extreme cases require antibiotics to kill the infection. Otherwise, the condition clears up within three weeks usually.
2- COPD – COPD may sound like a Police force from the US, but it is a term that is used to describe long-lasting lung conditions such as emphysema, which we will look at later, and bronchitis, which we just covered.
COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Symptoms associated with COPD include things like: difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, and excess mucus build-up.
COPD has been linked to smoking, so simply not smoking, or quitting, will greatly reduce your risks of suffering from this condition.
3- Pulmonary Emboli – This is one of the more extreme lung conditions on our list, so it is wise to pay close attention.
Pulmonary emboli are blood clots that have formed in other body regions and then traveled to the lungs.
These clots, if small, can cause difficulty breathing and may result in coughing fits.
They also reduce the flow of oxygen in the bloodstream, which can seriously affect other aspects of your health.
If the pulmonary emboli take the form of larger blood clots, they can be fatal.
Though men can suffer from this condition, women are at the highest risk, especially if they use the contraceptive pill, have recently given birth, are pregnant, or receive hormone replacement therapy.
4- Cystic fibrosis – Cystic fibrosis is a disease that attacks the cells which our body utilizes to create mucus, sweat, and other bodily fluids.
In healthy individuals who are not affected by Cystic Fibrosis, the fluids we just mentioned are very slick and have been heavily diluted down.
They take on the consistency of slightly thicker-than-average water.
Those that suffer from Cystic Fibrosis, however, find that these fluids are incredibly thick and are more like a paste than a liquid.
This can cause all kinds of issues throughout the body and can affect major organs and countless other physiological processes.
The condition is sometimes confused with asthma because it causes mucus to become thicker and denser than usual, accumulating in the airways and causing trouble breathing.
Furthermore, it also increases the risk of other infections.
5- Emphysema – Emphysema is a condition that occurs when the tiny air sacs in the lungs, known as the alveoli, suffer irreparable damage.
Once the alveoli become damaged, this only serves to get worse and worse, so the alveoli begin to degrade until they are destroyed.
This deterioration process causes air pockets to form within the lungs.
The air then fills the lining of the lungs, causing it to stretch, thereby stretching the lungs, which makes it much harder for a person to breathe.
Breathing in toxic fumes, including cigarette smoke, has been heavily linked to emphysema, so if you needed another reason to quit smoking, you now have one.
6- Vocal Cord Dysfunction – Vocal Cord Dysfunction is a condition that is very similar to asthma. In fact, the two are often misdiagnosed and confused with one another.
This condition causes shortness of breath, a tickly cough, a dry throat, tightness of the chest, and excessive wheezing.
The reason people experience these symptoms, however, is because their vocal cords close in an abnormal way when a person breathes out.
The reason they are often confused with each other is that the two have virtually identical triggers. Like asthma, common irritants like pollution, dust, and allergens can trigger a flare-up of the condition.
The two are so similar that diagnosing is often only achievable when common asthma medications like inhalers fail to work.
7- Congestive Heart Failure – Another disease that similarly presents itself to asthma is congestive heart failure.
Those that suffer from this condition do so because their hearts become too weak and are unable to effectively pump oxygenated blood throughout the body.
Often the ankles and feet become slightly swollen and inflamed. What’s more, it causes a backlog of blood, which results in what is known as Pulmonary Edema.
When individuals suffer from a congestive heart failure flare-up, often some of the first symptoms they experience are wheezing and shortness of breath.
The condition can be treated with medicine, which helps to remove the excess blood and fluids causing trouble breathing.
8- Influenza – Influenza, or ‘the flu’ as it is more commonly known, is an illness that you will not want to experience.
Influenza is a viral infection of the respiratory system, which has been known to cause short-term damage to a person’s lungs.
In all fairness, it would be very rare for the flu to be confused with asthma because the flu makes you feel so horrendously ill.
Flu symptoms include fever, shakes, headache, delirium, sickness, diarrhea, stomach cramp, hot and cold spells, and more.
In terms of asthma-like symptoms, however, influenza can also cause a severe cough, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath.
Lung Function Tests For Confirming Asthma
Okay, so you’re now not sure whether your lung condition is asthma, or a similar condition, perhaps one we have just listed above.
What can be done? Well, if you visit a doctor, they can perform a series of lung function tests to determine whether it is asthma that you happen to be suffering from.
A few common lung function tests include:
Spirometry – This basic breathing test for asthma is designed to measure how much air an individual can expel out of their lungs and in what duration of time.
The test is often carried out after the patient inhales a bronchodilator, which results in the airways expanding and increasing in size.
The test is designed to measure how much, if any, the patient suffers from airway obstruction.
Methacholine challenge test – This test is primarily used in adults rather than children.
You see, methacholine is a specially-created agent that, when inhaled, results in the airways contracting involuntarily in the form of a controlled spasm and becoming narrow if the individual indeed suffers from asthma.
When you undergo this test, you will breathe in increasing levels of methacholine mist from an aerosol before and after the spirometry.
If lung function is reduced by 20% or more, the test is positive, and asthma is indeed diagnosed.
After the test, the patient will always be given a bronchodilator, which basically reverses the effects of the methacholine.