Diagnosing Asthma

Asthma has a wide variety of possible symptoms and causes. Our doctors will need as much information as you are able to give them to provide an accurate diagnosis for you. Problems such as coughing and wheezing can occur for a variety of reasons, so it's important that a correct diagnosis is made. You may also need some tests to confirm a diagnosis.

By asking the right questions and ruling out health conditions with similar symptoms, they will make sure you get the best possible treatment and stop asthma from affecting your life as much as possible.

If you are experiencing symptoms that you think may mean you have asthma, you should speak to a doctor.

The doctor is likely to ask about your medical history, whether asthma runs in your family and what symptoms you have been experiencing. They’ll want to know whether you’ve noticed whether the symptoms happen at a particular time or place, and how they affect you.

The doctor may refer you for tests to confirm an asthma diagnosis, these can include:

  • spirometry - you breathe into a machine that measures your lung function, so how much air you can hold in your lungs and how fast you breathe out
  • peak flow test - this is a hand held device you blow into that measures how fast you can breathe out to measure your lung function
  • FeNO (fractional exhaled nitric acid) test - this tests for inflammation in your lungs by measuring how much nitric oxide you breathe out
  • airways responsiveness test - this test measures how your airways react when they are exposed to known triggers of asthma and it’s done in hospital.
  • allergy test - if allergens trigger your asthma symptoms, you may be tested to find out what you’re allergic to.

Diagnosing asthma is much more complicated for children than it is for adults. There are a number of reasons for this.

If your child is aged under five, their lungs aren’t developed enough to gain any meaningful results from a spirometry or peak flow test.

As these tests aren’t as reliable at this stage, younger children are often diagnosed with ‘suspected asthma’. This means the doctor thinks it’s a possibility, but will need to observe your child over a longer period to make a full diagnosis.

They may suggest a trial treatment, where your child uses a certain medicine for 2-3 months to see if it has an effect on your child’s symptoms.

If your child responds well, it’s likely that they do have asthma. Your doctor can then use the results from the trial treatment to work out the lowest effective dose needed when full treatment starts.

It is important that you get a diagnosis for asthma as this will help you get the condition under control and have access to the treatment you need as soon as possible.

If you think your child has asthma, getting them diagnosed is important as it will help them with their breathing problems and stop it affecting their daily life.

Asthma is a long-term condition and you will need regular reviews to monitor how you are doing and how effective your treatment is. This gives you the chance to discuss any further symptoms you have experienced or any concerns you have with the doctor.

The reviews will allow the doctor to change any existing medications or suggest other treatments if needed.

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