How Do I Know If I Have Asthma?

If you have these symptoms you may have asthma

Woman in emergency room

While the typical person is diagnosed with asthma in early childhood, you can develop asthma at any age. Anyone with one or a combination of the following symptoms could have asthma:

  • Cough - often with symptoms worsening at night
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Decreased ability to preform normal activities
  • Frequent nighttime awakenings or symptoms

If you have any of these symptoms, you may want to discuss asthma with your healthcare provider. Asthma can sometimes be difficult to diagnose as the symptoms mentioned above can occur in diseases other than asthma.

An asthma diagnosis requires evidence of the following:

  1. Presence of symptoms compatible with asthma such as cough, wheezing, or shortness of breath.
  2. Objective measurement of decreased airflow in your lungs that either partially or completely improves spontaneously or with treatment.

Your doctor will also want to make sure that your asthma diagnosis is correct and the symptoms are really asthma and not another diagnosis mimicking asthma in your child. Your doctor will likely ask you a number of questions and order several tests to help make a decision about the diagnosis.

If it is unclear that asthma is the likely diagnosis your doctor may consider bronchoprovocation tests to help your doctor make a diagnosis of asthma. Commonly an order for bronchoprovocation testing is placed if symptoms that suggest asthma are present, but the patient has normal spirometry testing and no response to rescue medications. Obstruction of airflow in your lungs can be provoked by inhaling aerosols known to elicit asthma symptoms and cause airway narrowing and irritation.

If it is more clear that your symptoms are due to asthma, your doctor may just run a test to help confirm a diagnosis or they may want a more detailed report outlining what the problems were and how they have been resolved. Some tests that may be ordered include:

  • Peak Expiratory Flow Rate (PEFR): PEFR is measured with a simple hand-held device that you forcefully exhale into your lungs.  A normal PEFR is generally 80% of your predicted or greater,  Your physician may have you keep a measurement record at home. You will develop a personal best PEFR that will tell you how well your asthma is controlled. You and your physician will develop a plan for what to do if your PEFR is below 80% of normal.
  • Spirometry: A test similar to the PEFR that requires more advanced equipment and is usually done in your physician's office, although there are a number of companies that sell home spirometry equipment. This test allows your doctor to better determine how severe your airflow obstruction may be and if you may benefit from treatment for your asthma.

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Article Sources

  • American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Topic of the Month.