Asthma differential diagnosis

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Philip Marcus, M.D., M.P.H. [2] Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief:


Asthma must be clinically differentiated from other conditions that cause recurrent cough and wheezing such as viral bronchiolitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, vocal cord dysfunction, ACE inhibitors use and allergic rhinitis.[1][2]

Differentiating Asthma from other Diseases

Diseases Symptoms Signs Diagosis
Fever Cough Chest pain Wheezes Crackles Tachycardia Lab tests Imaging
Asthma - Dry/Productive - + - -
Bronchiolitis +/- Dry - + + +/-
COPD + Productive - + + +
Bacterial pneumonia + Productive + + + +/-
Pulmonary embolism +/- Bloody + + + +
Diffuse idiopathic pulmonary neuroendocrine cell hyperplasia[10] - Dry - + - -
  • Pulmonary function test shows obstructive lung disease
Tuberculosis + Bloody + - - -
  • Sputum culture:
    • Three successive positive culture for M. tuberculosis confirms the diagnosis[11]
    • Presence of acid fast bacilli in sputum smear indicates high extent tuberculosis
  • CT scan may show:[13]
  • EKG may have abnormalities in case pleural effussion associated with TB.
Interstitial pneumonitis (Hamman - Rich syndrome) + Productive - - + -
Foreign body aspiration + Bloody + + - -
  • Chest X ray shows:
Pertussis + Dry - - -
  • No remarkable imaging findings
Congestive heart failure - Dry/Productive + while walking - - +
  • EKG to detect underlying cause
  • Chest x ray shows cardiomegaly
  • Echocardiography is done:
  • Although, many cases of recurrent cough and wheezing in children and adults are due to asthma, other conditions are often misdiagnosed as asthma.[1][6][5][4][3]


Infants & Children

Upper airway diseases
Obstructions involving large airways
Obstructions involving small airways
Other causes


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  2. 2.0 2.1 Wrona W, Budka K, Filipiak KJ, Niewada M, Wojtyniak B, Zdrojewski T (2016). "Health outcomes and economic consequences of using angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors in comparison with angiotensin receptor blockers in the treatment of arterial hypertension in the contemporary Polish setting". Kardiol Pol. 74 (9): 1016–24. doi:10.5603/KP.a2016.0055. PMID 27112942.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lin L, Chen Z, Cao Y, Sun G (2017). "Normal saline solution nasal-pharyngeal irrigation improves chronic cough associated with allergic rhinitis". Am J Rhinol Allergy. 31 (2): 96–104. doi:10.2500/ajra.2017.31.4418. PMID 28452705.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Jiang S, Li J, Zeng Q, Liang J (2017). "Pulmonary artery intimal sarcoma misdiagnosed as pulmonary embolism: A case report". Oncol Lett. 13 (4): 2713–2716. doi:10.3892/ol.2017.5775. PMC 5403205. PMID 28454456.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Mosley JD, Shaffer CM, Van Driest SL, Weeke PE, Wells QS, Karnes JH; et al. (2016). "A genome-wide association study identifies variants in KCNIP4 associated with ACE inhibitor-induced cough". Pharmacogenomics J. 16 (3): 231–7. doi:10.1038/tpj.2015.51. PMC 4713364. PMID 26169577.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 Environmental Triggers of Asthma. Differential Diagnosis of Asthma. Environmental Health and Medicine Education. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Available at: Accessed on February 25, 2016
  7. Ghanei M, Tazelaar HD, Chilosi M, Harandi AA, Peyman M, Akbari HM; et al. (2008). "An international collaborative pathologic study of surgical lung biopsies from mustard gas-exposed patients". Respir Med. 102 (6): 825–30. doi:10.1016/j.rmed.2008.01.016. PMID 18339530.
  8. Lazović B, Svenda MZ, Mazić S, Stajić Z, Delić M (2013). "Analysis of electrocardiogram in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients". Med Pregl. 66 (3–4): 126–9. PMID 23653989.
  9. Cvitanic O, Marino PL (1989). "Improved use of arterial blood gas analysis in suspected pulmonary embolism". Chest. 95 (1): 48–51. PMID 2491801. Retrieved 2012-04-30. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  10. Nassar AA, Jaroszewski DE, Helmers RA, Colby TV, Patel BM, Mookadam F (2011). "Diffuse idiopathic pulmonary neuroendocrine cell hyperplasia: a systematic overview". Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 184 (1): 8–16. doi:10.1164/rccm.201010-1685PP. PMID 21471097.
  11. Drobniewski F, Caws M, Gibson A, Young D (2003). "Modern laboratory diagnosis of tuberculosis". Lancet Infect Dis. 3 (3): 141–7. PMID 12614730.
  12. Riccardo Piccazzo, Francesco Paparo & Giacomo Garlaschi (2014). "Diagnostic accuracy of chest radiography for the diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB) and its role in the detection of latent TB infection: a systematic review". The Journal of rheumatology. Supplement. 91: 32–40. doi:10.3899/jrheum.140100. PMID 24788998. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  13. Jeong Min Ko, Hyun Jin Park & Chi Hong Kim (2014). "Pulmonary Changes of Pleural Tuberculosis: Up-to-Date CT Imaging". Chest. doi:10.1378/chest.14-0196. PMID 25086249. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  14. Pertussis (whooping coug). Diagnosis confirmation. Accessed on June 22, 2017
  15. Pertussis (whooping cough). Specimen collection. Accessed on June 22, 2017
  16. Yancy CW, Jessup M, Bozkurt B, Butler J, Casey DE, Drazner MH, Fonarow GC, Geraci SA, Horwich T, Januzzi JL, Johnson MR, Kasper EK, Levy WC, Masoudi FA, McBride PE, McMurray JJ, Mitchell JE, Peterson PN, Riegel B, Sam F, Stevenson LW, Tang WH, Tsai EJ, Wilkoff BL (2013). "2013 ACCF/AHA guideline for the management of heart failure: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines". J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 62 (16): e147–239. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2013.05.019. PMID 23747642.
  17. D'Aloia A, Vizzardi E, Metra M (2016). "Can Carbohydrate Antigen-125 Be a New Biomarker to Guide Heart Failure Treatment?: The CHANCE-HF Trial". JACC Heart Fail. 4 (11): 844–846. doi:10.1016/j.jchf.2016.09.001. PMID 27810078.
  18. Agha SA, Kalogeropoulos AP, Shih J, Georgiopoulou VV, Giamouzis G, Anarado P, Mangalat D, Hussain I, Book W, Laskar S, Smith AL, Martin R, Butler J (2009). "Echocardiography and risk prediction in advanced heart failure: incremental value over clinical markers". J. Card. Fail. 15 (7): 586–92. doi:10.1016/j.cardfail.2009.03.002. PMID 19700135.

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