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Asthma Mimics: 12 Health Conditions That Look Like Asthma

Asthma Mimics: 12 Health Conditions That Look Like Asthma

Asthma shares symptoms with various other breathing conditions. These conditions often end up being sidelined or not properly treated, especially if the correct diagnosis is not made. Therefore, it is essential to get medically tested to determine what your condition is. There are plenty of diseases that mimic asthma. In this article, we will talk about some of those asthma mimics as well as the asthma symptoms you need to watch out for.

Please note that is is important to consult a doctor before self-diagnosing or self-medicating.

Asthma mimics: What is asthma, its causes, and symptoms?

Asthma is a condition that involves inflamed airways. When these airways become swollen, the muscles around them also tighten. Asthma results in excess production of mucus in your lungs, which consequently leads to breathlessness, wheezing, coughing, etc.

There are some factors that may make you more prone to asthma. These include:

  1. Family history. Especially if either or both parents have it.
  2. Allergic reactions. These can be due to allergens like dust mites, pet dander, pollen, etc.
  3. History of viral infections. This usually happens in younger children and weakens their immune system.
  4. Hygiene hypothesis. When babies aren’t exposed to enough bacteria, their immune system isn’t able to guard them against conditions like asthma.

Asthma triggers include respiratory illnesses like pneumonia or the flu, exercise, environmental pollutants, weather conditions, and consuming emotions.

Common symptoms of asthma include:

  • Tightness in the chest
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Excessive coughing

Asthma mimics: Health conditions that resemble asthma

The above-mentioned symptoms, however, aren’t limited to asthma.

Here are some health conditions that mimic asthma:


This asthma mimic is short for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is an umbrella term for lung diseases like chronic bronchitis or emphysema. The most common reason for getting COPD is smoking.


This is a condition that arises from inflammation or swelling of the tissue lining the sinuses. Sinuses can become blocked, leading to germ growth, and result in an infection. Because of this, sinusitis is often mistaken for asthma. However, sinusitis and asthma do tend to coexist.

Congestive heart failure

The third in the list of asthma mimics, this is a heart condition in which inadequate pumping by the heart leads to fluid buildup in the lungs. Breathlessness and inability to exercise may occur.


This happens when during a lung disease there is an injury to the airway walls. This can be due to repeated infection in the airways that causes you to cough excessively.

Upper airflow obstruction

This is a serious condition wherein gland enlargement or a tumor can cause airflow blockage.

Myocardial ischemia

This condition occurs due to insufficient blood flow to the heart muscle tissues, which usually occurs due to blockage in the arteries. This may result in a heart attack. Heart attack symptoms include heart pain and shortness of breath. The latter can be mistaken for asthma.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a disorder where the content in your stomach and resultant acids flow back into the esophagus. This leads to heartburn, which can lead to asthma-like symptoms like tightness in the chest, mild breathlessness, etc.

Vocal cord dysfunction

This is a condition where the voice box muscles contract rapidly. This leads to issues in breathing.


Or Respiratory syncytial virus. This is a condition that happens in babies and younger children and causes wheezing. RSV can possibly lead to childhood asthma.


One of the most popular asthma mimics, is a condition that happens when you accidentally breathe food or any other foreign substance into the lungs. This can cause heavy breathing or gasping for breath.

Lung cancer

The symptoms of lung cancer and asthma are almost identical. These include coughing, wheezing, and breathlessness. The only difference between the two is that lung cancer comes with bloody mucus, which may occur during the later stages.

Vocal cord paralysis

The last in the list of asthma mimics, vocal cord paralysis occurs when the larynx or voice box nerve impulses are hampered. Because of this, not only is your ability to speak affected, but also your breathing.

How is asthma diagnosed?

There are three ways to determine whether you have asthma or one of the above-mentioned asthma mimics.

Review medical history

The first one is by reviewing your medical history, family history, your symptoms, possible allergens or irritants you’re coming in contact with. Your doctor will also carefully consider if you have had any episodes of breathing problems.

Physical examination

Secondly, you will be required to undergo physical examinations that determine what are the causes behind the symptoms that might be surfacing.

Further tests

And last would be to get to the root cause of the symptoms you’re experiencing. This will be done through various tests like:

  1. Spirometry test: A breathing test that determines how fast and how much air you can blow out of your lungs. This test will reveal whether the airway disruption is due to asthma or COPD.
  2. Peak flow test: This test will determine how well air moves out of your lungs.
  3. CT scan: A CT scan can be taken of the chest to understand the main obstruction point in the airways or lungs.
  4. Methacholine test: After you’re done with a spirometry test, you may be given increasing amounts of methacholine to inhale. If your lung function falls by 20% or more, then it indicates that you have asthma.
  5. Arterial blood gas: This test is used in rare cases, but is used to measure the amount of oxygen in your blood.
  6. Blood tests: Blood tests are usually done to see your immune system response efficiency.
  7. Electrocardiogram: Or ECG is a test that measures the electrical activity of the heart.

Key takeaway

Do you have an asthma, or one of the asthma mimics? Asthma symptoms are also pervasive in other conditions, such as COPD, sinusitis, GERD, and lung cancer. If you feel that the symptoms of asthma are persistent, consult your doctor right away.

Do not take any medication suggested on the internet or recommended by another asthma patient. Get your diagnosis done by a healthcare professional before starting any course of treatment.

Learn more about Asthma here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Cardiac asthma: What causes it? https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-failure/expert-answers/cardiac-asthma/faq-20058447/ Accessed 13/05/2020

Asthma may be misdiagnosed in many adults: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-asthma-adult/asthma-may-be-misdiagnosed-in-many-adults-idUSKBN1512HW/ Accessed 13/05/2020

Clinical asthma syndromes and important asthma mimics, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5425522_Clinical_asthma_syndromes_and_important_asthma_mimics Accessed 30/06/2021

Recognizing asthma mimics and asthma complications, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22128653/ Accessed 30/06/2021

Myocardial ischemia, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/myocardial-ischemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20375417 Accessed 30/06/2021


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Written by Nikita Bhalla Updated Jun 30, 2021
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel