Asthma Mimickers in Children and Adults

Some conditions that mimic asthma affect only children, but they are not the only asthma mimickers. These conditions are asthma mimickers in both children and adults.


Swallowing is a complex mechanism that transports foods and liquids from your mouth to your stomach. Each organ system 1 involved has a specific job. One important job is triggering your swallowing reflex. The reflex protects foods or objects from entering your airways. 

Aspiration 2 is a condition that happens when your swallow reflex is not triggered. As a result, you inhale the substance or object. These substances or objects can get lodged in your bronchioles, which block your airways and cause trouble breathing. Sometimes, these substances can reach your lungs, creating infections like aspiration pneumonia. 

Healthcare providers typically look for these things to detect aspiration:

  • Choking sensation
  • Chronic cough
  • Coughing up blood or mucus
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty or labored breathing
  • Low-grade fever

You can prevent aspiration when eating or drinking by:

  • Limiting distractions
  • Eating small, bite-sized pieces and chewing your food well before swallowing.
  • Eating or drinking in an upright position

Churg-Strauss Syndrome

Churg-Strauss syndrome (CSS) 3 is a condition caused by inflammation in the arteries and blood vessels of your heart, skin, and lungs. If you have CSS, you have many symptoms, one being asthma.

  • Asthma
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Numbness
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Heart failure
  • GI problems

Vocal Cord Dysfunction

Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) is another condition that can occur with or mimic asthma. Your vocal cords (folds) are tissues that sit on top of your voice box. They move together and apart so that you can breathe and speak 4

VCD happens when your vocal cords do not move as they should. When this happens, you can have trouble speaking and breathing. Episodes of dysfunction usually happen as the result of excessive use of your voice. For instance, when you are laughing or singing. However, it is possible for conditions and symptoms, like acid reflux, post-nasal drip, and coughing to create vocal cord dysfunction. Healthcare providers look for these symptoms to detect vocal cord dysfunction.

  • Sensation of choking
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty bringing air into your lungs
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent throat clearing

Even though you can have VCD and asthma, you cannot treat VCD like asthma. Some of your asthma therapies can worsen symptoms of VCD. VCD responds best to a nebulized treatment, speech therapy, and psychotherapy. 

Congestive Heart Failure

Your heart pumps blood to the different tissues and organs in your body. But sometimes, health conditions make it hard for your heart to do this job. Congestive heart failure (CHF) 5 is one of those conditions.

CHF makes your heart weak. As a result, your heart cannot pump enough blood to circulate throughout your body. Extra fluid starts to build up in places like your lower body and lungs. The fluid in and around your lungs causes symptoms that often mimic asthma.

  • A cough that develops in your lungs
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Irregular heartbeat

Despite the similarities in their presentations, treatment for CHF is much different from asthma. Your healthcare provider will prescribe medications to reduce the fluid in your body and widen your heart arteries. You can have complications because of CHF, like irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure. So, your healthcare provider may also prescribe medications to regulate your heart rate and lower your blood pressure.

Chronic Bronchitis

Recurring respiratory infections put you at risk for chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis mimics asthma because it not only involves your airways and lungs but also causes airway inflammation and mucus that blocks your airways. If you have chronic bronchitis, your symptoms resemble that of asthma:

  • A chronic or productive cough
  • New or worsening shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • General fatigue
  • Chest or muscle pain often as a result of frequent coughing
  • Frequent respiratory infections

The good news about respiratory infections is they are temporary. Avoiding known irritants and following preventative measures will significantly limit your risk of infection. Consult with your healthcare provider if your symptoms do not improve with an antibiotic or asthma therapy.