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Asthma

How Your Doctor Diagnoses Asthma

If your healthcare provider thinks you have asthma, there are things he or she must do to make a diagnosis. You may need to visit your provider several times and special tests may be ordered. You may also need to go to an asthma specialist.

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your personal and family medical history. He or she will also want to know about your asthma symptoms. Once your healthcare provider has gathered all this information, a diagnosis can be made.

Medical history

Your medical history will include information about your:

  • Asthma symptoms. Do you have trouble breathing, wheezing, coughing, or chest tightness? When do you have symptoms? How long have you had the symptoms? Do the symptoms cause problems with your daily activities or with sleeping? Do certain things make your symptoms worse?

  • Medical history. Do you have other health problems? Other breathing problems? Allergies? Have you had any surgeries? Do you take any medicines? Do you smoke or drink alcohol? Do you exercise? What type of work do you do?  At work, are you exposed to animal proteins, enzymes, flour, natural rubber latex, certain reactive chemicals, air pollutants, or other substances?

  • Family history. Do family members have serious health problems? Do family members have asthma or allergies? Do they have breathing problems?

Other health problems

Part of the process of diagnosing asthma is looking at whether you have any other health problems. This is very important for figuring out your treatment. You may have lab or other diagnostic tests like X-rays or scans to help diagnose other health problems.

Your medical history will help your healthcare provider know if you have:

  • Other conditions with symptoms like asthma. Your medical history helps your healthcare provider tell asthma apart from other conditions.

  • Other breathing problems. You may have asthma and another condition that causes breathing problems. For example, COPD or heart failure.

  • Other conditions and asthma. You may have other health problems that are more common in people with asthma. These problems often make asthma more difficult to control. For example, reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD) or long-term sinus infections.

Doctor listening to a man's lungs

Physical exam

Your healthcare provider will give you an exam. The focus of the exam will be your respiratory system. This includes your nose, throat, chest, and lungs. Your provider will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope. He or she may listen for wheezing or other signs of asthma.

Spirometry

Spirometry is a lung function test. It measures the amount of air you breathe out (exhale). It also measures how quickly you can completely exhale. It may be used in the diagnosis of many lung conditions.

Spirometry is recommended for people with asthma. The results of this test help your healthcare provider make a diagnosis of asthma. It is also used to monitor asthma and to determine how well medicines are working.

After the diagnosis

Once asthma is diagnosed, you and your healthcare provider will talk about the following:

  • Triggers. What are your asthma triggers or what makes your symptoms worse. Also, what you should do to avoid triggers.

  • Symptoms. What to do if your symptoms get worse. This is your Asthma Action Plan.

  • Activities. What you can do and what you should avoid in your daily activities.

  • Medications. How to correctly use your medicines. This includes inhalers and nebulizers.

  • Follow-up. You should have regular office visits. Schedule your next appointment.

Online Medical Reviewer: Blaivas, Allen J., DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2016
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