Are There Medical Conditions That Can Mimic Asthma Or Make It More Severe?

Yes, several medical conditions can mimic asthma. Surprisingly, not all of them are lung diseases! The lung dis-eases that should be differentiated from asthma include the COPD group (such as emphysema and chronic obstructive bronchitis) and pulmonary embolus, as well as rarer diseases such as eosinophilic pneumonia and pulmonary infiltrates with eosinophilia. A benign or malignant growth (tumor) arising in the major bronchial tubes can also lead to wheezing and shortness of breath and could be confused with asthma. Conditions affecting the upper respiratory system, more specifically, the larynx or voice box, are well-known asthma copycats. Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) syndrome, along with dysfunction and tumors of the voice box, are good examples.

The non-pulmonary asthma mimics include cardiac dis-eases, such as congestive heart failure, and digestive diseases, principally reflux and GERD. Finally, certain prescription medications can produce asthma-like symptoms in susceptible individuals. The antihypertensive medicines known as angiotensin-converting enzyme-inhibitors can occasionally give rise to a nagging, dry cough that is easily mistaken for an asthmatic symptom. Beta-blocker medication, used in the treatment of glaucoma and cardiovascular disease, can in some individuals cause wheezing and breathlessness, often indistinguishable from asthma.

Medical conditions such as sinusitis, allergic rhinitis, and GERD can aggravate asthma symptoms, particularly if the co-existing conditions are not addressed and treated appropriately. Obesity and untreated obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) may worsen existing asthma, if present. Up to 21% of adults with asthma also have aspirin sensitivity. They will experience severe exacerbations after taking aspirin (or any of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory class of medication), which must thus be avoided for life. Sulfites, a type of food additive, can precipitate an exacerbation in sulfite-sensitive persons with asthma. In addition to avoidance of known asthma triggers, good asthma management should thus include identification and prompt and effective treatment of any concurrent illnesses.