Many of the patients who make an appointment to see me do so because they’re having trouble breathing or they’re frequently wheezing or coughing.
Often the issue turns out to be asthma. But, there are many other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. It’s my job as a pulmonologist to figure out the cause of their symptoms and to develop a personalized treatment plan that will help them breathe better.
When discussing with patients the many different conditions that could be triggering their symptoms, I start by explaining each of the conditions and how they may impact their health. I often kick off the discussion with asthma.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic condition where your airways become narrow and inflamed. This can cause symptoms such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Wet or dry cough
- Chest tightness
- Rapid breathing
Asthma symptoms are usually set off by a trigger. Cold air, exercise, allergies and viral infections — like colds — are common culprits. For some people, even laughing or crying can bring on an asthma attack. Many patients also tell me their asthma symptoms are worse early in the morning or at bedtime.
If you have asthma, following a treatment plan can help you feel much better. This often includes taking long-term and short-acting medications, and making lifestyle changes to help avoid your triggers.
Treatment can also help keep asthma from getting worse over time. And that means you can do more of the activities you love.
What can be mistaken for asthma?
Other problems can sometimes mimic asthma. For instance:
GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)
GERD is caused by acid from the stomach flowing up into the esophagus. It’s commonly described as heartburn. People who have GERD experience symptoms of heartburn 2 or more times a week. This burning feeling in their chest and throat often happens after eating certain foods or drinking certain beverages. Over time, the backwash of stomach acid may damage the esophagus.
Although GERD is not an actual lung disease, it can cause complications outside the esophagus: in the mouth, throat or lungs. These complications may include a chronic cough, hoarseness and wheezing.