How Do Doctors Diagnose Asthma?
There is no specific test that
can diagnose asthma with certainty. Fortunately the average case of adult
asthma is pretty easy to spot, and the same is true for children over 5.
Usually a diagnosis can be given by a family doctor, who will only diagnose
asthma after several attacks have occurred.
Some patients now described as asthmatic would
have been given a different diagnosis (such as wheezy bronchitis) 30 years
ago. To some extent, this is because asthma was under-diagnosed in the past:
doctors were hesitant about giving a diagnosis of asthma because they
believed it to be psychosomatic in some people (mind causing the symptoms).
Sweeping away this stigma has been of immense value, but now certain
patients (especially young children) may get diagnosed as asthmatic without
enough evidence. On the other hand, there are also many
instances of asthma being missed.
Questions Your Doctor Will Investigate
There are four separate aspects to a diagnosis:
1 Is this really asthma or
2 Is it combined with other
diseases, and how are they affecting the asthma?
3 What is the basic cause of the
inflammation in the airways, and can this be avoided?
4 What sort of factors trigger
the asthma attacks? See: What triggers an
Not all doctors will follow this full diagnostic
program, but you can help by finding answers to some of the questions
These 2 tests should be carried out before you are
given a diagnosis of asthma:
Peak Flow Test/Spirometry Meter
This is a lung test. This hand-held meter measures
how much air you can breathe in and out. It also measures how fast you can
blow air out.
This test involves inhaling a beta-2 reliever drug
which relaxes the airway muscles. A spirometry test is performed before
inhaling the drugs and after. If the drug improves peak flow by more
than 15 percent, this strongly suggests asthma.
When Is Asthma Difficult To Diagnose?
Asthma may be difficult to diagnose in certain
• In babies, who often wheeze, especially when
they have colds or chest infections. This generally clears up later and does
not automatically develop into asthma. There is great controversy about
whether wheezy babies should be labeled 'asthmatic' or not, and how bad the
wheezing should be before they are given asthma drugs. Views on this vary,
so you may want to see a different doctor for a second opinion. For older
children who wheeze only when they get chest infections, most doctors feel
it is valuable to use asthma drugs - such treatment does not 'turn wheezing
into asthma' as is sometimes claimed.
• When the main symptom is coughing. See,
when is a cough asthma?
• When asthma occurs only at night. In some
asthmatics, even intensive testing reveals no abnormality in the airways
during the day. The only way to diagnose the condition is to use a peak-flow
meter at home, morning and evening.
• When there is a sudden one-off asthma attack in
response to a powerful allergen load. This sometimes happens to hay fever
sufferers at the height of the pollen season (especially during
thunderstorms). Some doctors will want to start asthma drugs immediately,
but it may be better to get the hay fever well
controlled with antihistamines and see what happens. Often there are no
further asthma attacks.
Next: When is asthma not
What Is Asthma?: Easy
What Causes Asthma?
The DNA, family and lifestyle connection.
What Are The
Symptoms Of Asthma? Discover the top signs.
What Is The Treatment For Asthma?
Medicines and therapies.
What Is An Asthma Diet? Foods and natural
What Is The
Best Exercise For Asthma? Exercise is still recommended.
• Got another question? See: Allergy Questions
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