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8 conditions that could be mistaken for asthma

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Asthma is an acute respiratory distress syndrome. Respiratory tract diseases affect the air passages, including the nasal passages, the bronchi and the lungs. They range from acute infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, to chronic conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

An asthma attack may be life threatening. This disease can be found in all ages with signs of:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest tightness or pain
  • coughing or wheezing

Health practitioners have to look at various signs and symptoms to begin the process in identifying asthma. Signs are what your health practitioner sees. These are called the objective findings, when combined with tests, are used to make a diagnosis. Symptoms are when you describe how you feel. These are called the subjective findings.

To the bystander, the following conditions have similar signs and symptoms that could be mistaken for an asthma attack. Here are some life saving tips to help you identify underlying conditions.

1. Congestive heart failure is associated with shortness of breath. This looks like an asthma attack. Often found in older individuals, climbing stairs or any physical exertion makes breathing harder. Sudden night breathing difficulty is brought on when reclining in bed which is known as ‘air hunger’.

2. Anterior thoracic subluxation is a partial dislocation of the thoracic spine which is located between the shoulder blades. Often found after a sports injury, whiplash or scoliosis, the vertebrae are shifted forward and limit the space in the chest cavity. The lungs cannot expand fully on inspiration which can cause severe pain. Breathing is shallow and looks like an asthma episode.

3. Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disorder that affects the cells that line the respiratory tract. This condition is chronic air way obstruction, infection, and respiratory distress.

4. Allergic reaction is hypersensitivity in the body that can make it hard to breathe.
Common allergens are aspirin, birch, cat, cockroach, dog, dust mites, egg, imported fire ant, iodine, latex, molds, mugwort, olive, peanut, penicillin, rag weed, Timothy grass, yellow grass, yellow jacket venom, and wheat.

5. Emphysema can be found in an older male with a abnormally large chest known as a ‘barrel chest’. Associated with long time smokers, this condition makes it difficult to exhale.

6. Fractured rib is a painful condition that makes it difficult to take a deep breath. Inside your body a fracture is like a knife which can puncture soft tissues that surround it.

7. Panic attack is anxiety disorder that can come on fast. Marked by palpitations, sweating, trembling and dizziness, it appears as if the person can’t catch his/her breath.

8. Sleep apnea is the sudden cessation of breathing during sleep. It can result in low oxygen in the brain. When the brain lacks oxygen it can lead to cognitive impairment, hypertension and irregular heart rhythm.

Never assume that a person has asthma when they are having difficulty breathing. Seek a health professional when breathing problems arise. Taking the right action can be life saving.

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