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Could You Have Undiagnosed Asthma?

Maybe It's Allergies, But Look out for These Signs

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Dayton Respiratory Center

Jul 20 2022

4 mins read

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects your airways and interferes with normal breathing. We often associate asthma with wheezing or breathing difficulty, ignoring the less common symptoms like a persistent cough or difficulty sleeping.

Many overlook the early signs of asthma because we think it's an age-related problem or mistake it for an allergy. In addition, there's also a misconception that it's a childhood disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 25 million people in the United States have asthma. Of these, about 84% are adults.

Despite its prevalence, asthma often goes undiagnosed.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects your airways. Your airways are the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. If you have asthma, your airways are constantly inflamed.

During an asthma attack, the airways can swell and narrow, even more, making breathing difficult.

Difference Between a Normal Airway and Asthmatic Airway|Ophea

Do I Have Asthma?

Asthma can be tricky to diagnose because the symptoms can vary from person to person and can also be similar to the symptoms of other conditions.

We often ignore asthma symptoms, thinking they are just a cold or an allergy — especially if you’ve never had an asthma attack. Moreover, with age, we also relate asthma symptoms to weight gain issues.

Delaying diagnosis and treatment is dangerous, as asthma can be severe.

Watch out for the following symptoms of asthma:

  • A persistent cough, especially at night or early morning
  • Wheezing sound during breathing
  • Breathing problems persist even after a cold
  • Wheezing or coughing after exercise or any strenuous work
  • Coughing, wheezing or chest tightness after an allergen exposure
  • Unable to sleep at night due to breathing difficulty
  • Increased mucus production

It’s not uncommon for people to mistake asthma symptoms for allergies. Both conditions can cause symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. But there are some key differences between the two conditions.

An allergy occurs in the upper respiratory system when your body reacts against a foreign substance and causes nasal congestion, sinus pain, and runny nose. On the other hand, asthma is a chronic lung condition that causes the airways to swell and narrow, making breathing difficult.

While both conditions can be bothersome, asthma is a more serious condition that can be life-threatening. If you suspect you may have asthma, it’s important to see a doctor for a diagnosis.

How Is Asthma Diagnosed?

If you experience any of the above symptoms, diagnosing the root cause is important to get the right treatment.

Your doctor will examine you and ask about your medical history and if anyone in your family has asthma or allergies.

To determine the root cause, your doctor may conduct one or more of the following tests:

  • Spirometry — It's a breathing test that measures how much air you breathe out and how fast you do it. Your doctor might also administer a bronchodilator — a medication that opens up the airways — to check its effect on your breathing. If your breathing gets better, you probably have asthma.
  • Allergy test It can determine the effect of any allergens on your breathing. The test involves placing a small amount of allergen extract on your skin and then pricking the skin to allow the allergen to enter. If you are allergic to the allergen, you will have a raised, red, itchy bump within 20 minutes.
  • FeNO test It measures nitric oxide level in your exhaled blood. High nitric oxide indicates an inflamed lung.

Your doctor might sometimes recommend additional tests, like a chest x-ray or blood tests, to confirm the diagnosis.


Asthma attacks can range from mild to severe. It's a chronic disease that cannot be cured but can be managed and controlled with proper treatment. If untreated, asthma can have detrimental effects on the lungs. It can cause lung scarring — permanent damage to the lungs. Moreover, ignoring asthma symptoms might lead to a fatal and severe asthma attack.

However, timely diagnosis and treatment can avoid the damage caused to the lungs and help you lead a normal life. Therefore, it's important to watch out for any asthma symptoms and consult your doctor at the earliest.

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