Skip to main content

You are here

How we're stopping the wrong diagnosis of asthma

Dr James Hull talks about his research, which could help people get the treatment they need.


As a chest consultant, I see lots of people who have been wrongly diagnosed with asthma.

If a patient gets breathless during exercise, sometimes it's diagnosed as asthma. But often its a condition called EILO - exercise-induced laryngeal obstruction. 

Some people have the wrong diagnosis for a long time – sometimes even years.

And confusing the two is particularly common in young people, who are brought in more often because they're wheezing when they exercise. 

It’s a big problem

Not only are people missing vital treatments – they’re also being given medicine for asthma which isn’t going to help. It can actually make them feel even worse.

That’s why I’m part of a team trying to change this.

We’re working on a simple way to check for EILO. It's a device that you breathe in and out of - and we’re hoping it will help more people get the right diagnosis

How do people get misdiagnosed with asthma in the first place?

If you are exercising and suddenly lose your breath, it can be really frightening. This is why most people go to their GP.

And if they’re misdiagnosed with asthma, they’ll be prescribed inhalers, which are pricey and can be bad for you.

The problem is that the only way to really tell the difference between EILO and asthma is to put a camera up your nose and look at how your airways are closing. This test is widely unavailable, as well as uncomfortable and unpractical, especially for young children.

Why we need a change

This is why our device is so important - to help correctly diagnose this lung condition. 

Not only will this prevent people from being given medicine that could be harmful, but by correctly identifying EILO we can make sure people get the right support and treatment, such as breathing relaxation techniques. 

Thank you to the British Lung Foundation

Getting the right diagnosis makes such a massive impact.

It’s very exciting to help people with EILO! I'm hoping this will make such a huge difference.

People with EILO will be able to do sports again, or be healthy at school, and play with their friends. Getting the right diagnosis makes such a massive impact.

I’m also very grateful to the British Lung Foundation for their support. Without their funding, our research could never take place.

They’ve already helped me present my research at conferences, so when they asked for researchers wanting to look at breathing problems with young people – it all made sense!

The money has allowed us to fund the research, and to obtain the devices and be able to do the tests that prove that this device works. 

The future of research

Some work using new ways of diagnosing EILO with special breathing equipment has already been published in America.

Now we can extend that work for the first time in UK.

It could be such an important tool - if we can help people get the right diagnosis, then we can make sure they get treatments that are going to improve their lives. And that could make all the difference.

Dr James Hull, Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust


When a child I kept getting "bronchial"asthma,worse when I had a cold etc. As an adult I was frequently told my lungs were clear even though wheezing badly. Is there a specific treatment or research about targeting the Trachea/Bronchi without unnecessarily affecting the whole lungs as inhalers do?? Best Wishes!
What relation is between apnea and asthma, and can one have both? Does age make it severe or more complicated, to cope with a these condition?
I was only diagnosed before Xmas.  Yes since 2009 I had a croaking throat and cough, and was first told I had frozen throats muscles and went to hospital for speech therapy, then given asthma spRays.  It was only when as a normally fit active person, I could not walk my dog as I was so breathless.  They then did a test agreeing I did not have asthma.
I was diagnosed as having mild asthma when I was young but was left untreated as it was considered I'd grow out of it. As I got older, I would notice I couldn't run as far as other people no matter how hard I trained... I was finally diagnosed with Asthma and been on various medicines for some time now including one to stop me having coughing fits in the night. Last year I was diagnosed as having OSA due to a small airway and been fitted for a CPAP machine. I hope some of this testing helps someone get to a proper diagnosis earlier.

Add new comment

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
21 June 2016