Several conditions mimic asthma-like symptoms. The most common of these are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Wheezing, chest tightness, coughing and breathlessness are common to all three. To add to the confusion these symptoms can also appear in heart disease, lung cancer, bronchiectasis and cystic fibrosis.
One main difference between asthma and chronic conditions is that asthma is episodic. This means that there are times when you have asthma and there are times when you don’t. During these times, your breathing seems normal.
Bronchitis is a viral infection of the lungs, usually caused by a cold or flu. It causes symptoms very similar to asthma – wheezing, coughing, difficulty in breathing, and large amounts of phlegm – but it should clear up in about four weeks.
In emphysema, the elasticity associated with the bronchioles is lost. Also, the air sacs at the end of the lungs lose their shape and reduce the ability of oxygen to enter the bloodstream. Smoking often causes emphysema. Symptoms include wheezing, chest tightness, coughing and breathlessness.
In children, croup can be confused with asthma. This is an infection of the larynx, often following a cold. Croup produces a harsh sound when breathing in, a barking cough and wheezing.
This is a viral infection of the lungs to which babies are particular prone. It causes wheezing and can take some time to clear up. It may trigger the initial development of asthma.
Congestive Heart Failure
This condition occurs in older people with heart disease. People who suffer from heart failure, have excessive fluid in their lungs, which narrows the airways by surrounding them, and this may lead to wheezing. This condition is often described as “cardiac asthma” and does not respond well to asthma medication. An examination of the heart and lung will reveal if this problem is a result of poor heart function.