Differential Diagnosis of Asthma

Not everyone who suffers symptoms of asthma will necessarily have asthma. There are many conditions that mimic some or all of the symptoms of asthma so it is important to seek professional advice to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Conditions that may produce one or more symptoms similar to asthma include:

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Differential Diagnosis: Asthma

Several conditions can cause similar symptoms, so it's important to get a proper diagnosis and correct treatment.

Source: NHS Choices UK1

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Pneumonia can be difficult to diagnose because it shares many symptoms with other conditions, such as the common cold, bronchitis and asthma.

Source: NHS Choices UK2

Differential Diagnosis for Asthma

Common Cold: Some preschool age children frequently wheeze when they get colds but don’t go on to develop chronic asthma. “But some kids start wheezing at age 3, and the problem continues,” says Lemanske. “These kids also tend to be more allergic.”

Source: NIH News in Health (NIH)3

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Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA): Symptoms of allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA) are similar to asthma.

Source: CDC4

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COPD: In older adults, COPD can sometimes be confused with asthma. If you have shortness of breath, wheezing, or other problems breathing, your doctor will be able to tell if you have COPD, asthma, or another condition.

Source: NIA (NIH)5

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Allergies: How can patients tell if it’s just allergies or asthma?

There is certainly an overlap. The immune system response that causes you to have allergies plays a role in getting asthma. But while most patients with asthma have allergies, most patients with allergies don’t have asthma. The time to get worried is if you start feeling wheezy, have a cough, chest heaviness, or shortness of breath that prevents you from doing normal activities. These are signs that it is not just a simple allergy.

“The time to get worried is if you start feeling wheezy, have a cough, chest heaviness, or shortness of breath that prevents you from doing normal activities.” - Stavros Garantziotis, M.D.

Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH)6

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Exercise-Induced Bronchospasm: Exercise-Induced bronchospasm (EIB). The condition is a temporary narrowing of the airways during or after exercise. Although the symptoms of EIB are similar to asthma, they are different.

Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH)7

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Bronchiolitis: Further tests for bronchiolitis aren't usually necessary. However, as some conditions cause similar symptoms to bronchiolitis, such as cystic fibrosis and asthma, tests may be needed.

If it isn't clear what's causing your child's symptoms, or your child has signs of severe bronchiolitis, your GP may recommend further tests in hospital to help confirm the diagnosis.

Source: NHS Choices UK8

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: There are several conditions that cause similar symptoms, such as asthma, bronchiectasis, anaemia and heart failure. A simple breathing test can help determine if you have COPD.

Read more about tests for COPD.

Source: NHS Choices UK9

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Roundworms: You have unexplained asthma-like symptoms shortly after visiting a tropical or sub-tropical country.

Source: NHS Choices UK10

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Pulmonary sarcoidosis: The two main symptoms are shortness of breath and a persistent dry cough. Some people with pulmonary sarcoidosis experience pain and discomfort in their chest, but this is uncommon.

Source: NHS Choices UK11

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  1. Source: NHS Choices UK: nhs.uk/ conditions/ Asthma/ 
  2. Source: NHS Choices UK: nhs.uk/ conditions/ Pneumonia/ 
  3. Source: NIH News in Health (NIH): newsinhealth.nih.gov/ issue/ jun2014/ feature1
  4. Source: CDC: cdc.gov/ fungal/ diseases/ aspergillosis/ symptoms.html
  5. Source: NIA (NIH): nia.nih.gov/ health/ understanding-lung-problems
  6. Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH): medlineplus.gov/ magazine/ issues/ fall17/ articles/ fall17pg24.html
  7. Source: MedLinePlus Magazine (NIH): medlineplus.gov/ magazine/ issues/ fall13/ articles/ fall13pg10-11.html
  8. Source: NHS Choices UK: nhs.uk/ conditions/ bronchiolitis/ diagnosis/ 
  9. Source: NHS Choices UK: nhs.uk/ conditions/ chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-copd/ symptoms/ 
  10. Source: NHS Choices UK: nhs.uk/ conditions/ Roundworm/ 
  11. Source: NHS Choices UK: nhs.uk/ conditions/ sarcoidosis/ 

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Note: This site is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. See your doctor or other qualified medical professional for all your medical needs.