How Is Asthma Diagnosed ?

asthma diagnosis

When a person experiences symptoms such as severe cough, wheezing, chest tightness, it’s very important to see a doctor to determine if it’s asthma or not. 


Asthma diagnosis is generally based on several factors such as your asthma symptoms, medical history, a physical exam and lung tests to evaluate breathing.

Since the symptoms of asthma are common in the other respiratory conditions, further diagnosis is carried out to rule out other possible causes 
This article will discuss some signs and symptoms of asthma and the types of tests that are used to diagnose asthma.


Signs and symptoms of asthma 

The most common symptoms of asthma are: 

  • Cough with or without mucus production
  • Dyspnea
  • Wheezing. 
  • Chest tightness and pains

Sometimes before an asthma attack underlying symptoms could be present while other times it may begin abruptly.

Asthma attacks have been known to occur frequently either at night or in the early hours of the  morning.
During an asthma attack, breathing out {expiration} requires effort and becomes harder and in extremely severe cases the blood oxygen is insufficient leading to body tissue coloration known as Hypoxia. 

Acute severe asthma is the most serious form of asthma and could be life threatening as it doesn’t respond to traditional treatments, this asthma attack could range from several minutes to hours. 


How is Asthma diagnosed?

 1. Medical history

 2. Physical examination

 3. Lungs function tests

asthma diagnosis

Medical history 

When a person experiences asthma symptoms, the first step is for the doctor to ask for the patient’s medical history with series of questions such as: 

  • What are your symptoms?
  • What are your allergies ?
  • Does a family member asthma ?
  • What other health problems do you have?
  • Do you often come into contact with tobacco smoke, pets, dust, or chemicals in the air?
  • What do you do for a living ? 

These questions may provide clues as to whether it is asthma or not. 


2. Physical Examination

Your doctor will continue with a physical exam to get more details about your symptoms with more focus on your breathing
The doctor will:

  • Check your nose, throat, and upper airways
  • Use a stethoscope to listen for a wheezing sound when you breath
  • Examine your cough
  • Examine your chest tightness 

3. Lung Function Tests

Lung function tests are various way to check how well your lungs are working. Your doctor is likely to run a lung function test to get more information about the type and severity of your condition. 

Some Lung Function Tests for Asthma
The main tests used to help diagnose asthma are:
1. Spirometry
Spirometry is the most common lung function test. It’s the main test for detecting and measuring airway obstruction associated with asthma. To do this test, you’ll put a mouthpiece in your mouth and a clip on your nose. You then breathe into a tube connected to a small device called a spirometer. This will help your doctor measure how fast you can breathe out and how much air you can hold in your lungs.

spirometry test

2. Fractional Exhaled Nitric Oxide (FeNO) Test
When the diagnosis is not certain, your doctor may perform a fractional exhaled nitric oxide test. This test is often simply referred to as a FeNO test. This FeNO test uses a handheld device to measure the amount of nitric oxide you exhale. You breathe into a machine that measures the level of nitric oxide in your breath. Your body makes this gas normally, but levels could be high if there’s a  sign of inflammation in your lungs.

3. Peak Expiratory Flow Meter Test
Peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) is also another lung test to diagnose asthma. It’s a measurement of how powerfully you can blow air out of your lungs. This is measured with a simple hand-held device called a peak flow meter. You’ll blow into a handheld device that measures how fast you can breathe out, and this may be done several times over a few weeks to see if it changes over time.  A normal PEFR is 80% or greater than what would be predicted for the person being tested.

Some other tests include:

  • X-ray or computerized tomography (CT) imaging of your chest
  • CT scans of your sinuses
  • Blood tests
  • Gastroesophageal reflux assessment
  • Examination of the phlegm in your lungs (sputum induction and examination) for signs of a viral or bacterial infection
  • Heartburn (also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD)
  • Hay fever
  • Sinusitis
  • Skin tests

Though asthma is common, it’s a serious condition that needs a diagnosis and treatment. It can’t be cured, but it can be managed. So talk to your doctor for asthma support and  medications that work best for you.
Asthma does not cut short life expectancy so it is very possible to manage asthma attacks effectively.

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