Asthma Diagnosis

Diagnosis is the first step in keeping asthma under control.

Early warning signs of asthma include, fatigue, coughing, even when the person does not have a cold, wheezing, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, runny nose or itchy throat.

Anyone regularly exhibiting any of the symptoms should see a doctor or allergist as soon as possible. The earlier it is diagnosed the earlier the condition can be controlled, and the more successful the treatment can be.

Initially, your doctor will ask about:

  • Periods of coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or chest tightness that come on suddenly or occur often or seem to happen during certain times of year or season.
  • Colds that seem to “go to the chest” or take more than 10 days to get over.
  • Medicines you may have used to help your breathing.
  • Your family history of asthma and allergies.
  • What things (triggers) seem to cause asthma symptoms or make them worse.

Your doctor will listen to your breathing with a stethoscope and look for signs of asthma or allergies.

Also, your doctor will probably use a device called a spirometer to check your airways. This test measures how much air and how fast you can blow air out of your lungs after taking a deep breath. The results will be lower than normal if your airways are inflamed and narrowed, as in asthma, or if the muscles around your airways have tightened up.

As part of the test, your doctor may give you some medication that helps open up narrowed airways to see if it changes or improves your test results. Spirometry is also used to check your asthma over time to see how you are doing.

If your spirometry results are normal but you have asthma symptoms, your doctor will probably want you to have other tests to see what else could be causing your symptoms.

One test commonly used is called the bronchial challenge test. For this test, a substance such as methacholine, which causes narrowing of the airways in asthma, is inhaled. The effect is measured by spirometry.

Children under age 5 usually cannot use a spirometer successfully. If spirometry cannot be used, the doctor may decide to try medication for a while to see if the child’s symptoms get better.

Besides spirometry, your doctor may also recommend that you have:

  • Allergy testing to find out if and what allergens affect you.
  • A test that uses a hand-held peak flow meter every day for 1-2 weeks to check your breathing (a peak flow meter is a device that shows how well you are breathing).
  • A test to see how your airways react to exercise.
  • Tests to see if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • Test to see if you have sinus disease.