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How Do Doctors Check For Asthma

Are There Different Tests To Diagnose Asthma In Children

Diagnosing Asthma: Mild, Moderate, and Severe

Children under 5 years old dont normally have lung function tests. Instead, a doctor will do a physical exam and make note of all their symptoms. Theyll collect a detailed medical history and will ask questions about the family medical history.

There are many conditions that might look like asthma in young children, making diagnosis difficult. Your childs doctor might prescribe an inhaled medication called a bronchodilator. This medication is safe and temporarily opens the airways.

It might be a sign your child has asthma if the bronchodilator improves their breathing symptoms. Your childs doctor will make a diagnosis once there is enough evidence to support that asthma is causing your childs breathing difficulties.

What Kind Of Doctor Do I Go To Check If I Have Asthma

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What Are The Symptoms Of Asthma

Wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath are among the most common asthma symptoms. In severe flare-ups, you may also feel tightness in your chest.

Unlike other respiratory conditions, asthma symptoms tend to flare up when youre exposed to triggers, such as:

  • allergens that irritate the airways and cause inflammation
  • exercise that can put stress on the airways and lead to inflammation
  • cold weather conditions that constrict the airways

Symptoms also tend to get worse when youre trying to sleep at night.

Asthma refers to airway constriction and inflammation, but there are also different subtypes to consider.

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Can You Die From An Asthma Attack

Sadly, the answer is yes, you can die from an asthma attack. In 2019, there were 3,524 deaths from asthma, including 178 children. That means nearly 10 people in the U.S. die each day from asthma. That is why it is essential to seek treatment for an asthma attack and use your quick-relief medicine as directed. Many deaths from asthma are avoidable with proper treatment and care.

Diagnosing Asthma In Young Children

Asthma Symptoms: Testing &  Treatment

Healthcare providers are often reluctant to give a diagnosis of asthma to infants and very young children because children often cough and wheeze with colds, chest infections like bronchitis, and other conditions responsible for asthma-like symptoms.

Since there is no diagnostic test available for children younger than six years of age, making a diagnosis in this age group is more difficult than in older children. Over the age of about six it is possible for a child to have a spirometry test. This is a simple test that measures a childs airflow through the large and small airways. Results reveal if the childs airflow can be improved with medication. Reversibility of airway obstruction is a key feature of asthma. If administering a bronchodilator reverses airway narrowing significantly, the diagnosis is probably asthma.

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How Can You Tell If You Have Asthma

It can be hard to tell if someone has asthma, especially in children under age 5. Having a doctor check how well your lungs work and check for allergies can help you find out if you have asthma.

During a checkup, a doctor will ask if you cough a lot, especially at night. He or she will also ask whether your breathing problems are worse after physical activity or at certain times of year. The doctor will then ask about chest tightness, wheezing, and colds lasting more than 10 days. He or she will ask whether anyone in your family has or has had asthma, allergies, or other breathing problems. Finally, the doctor will ask questions about your home and whether you have missed school or work or have trouble doing certain things.

The doctor may also do a breathing test, called spirometry, to find out how well your lungs are working by testing how much air you can breathe out after taking a very deep breath before and after you use asthma medicine.

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Why Is My Asthma Worse At Night

Asthma that gets worse at night is sometimes called nighttime asthma or nocturnal asthma. There are no definite reasons that this happens, but there are some educated guesses. These include:

  • The way you sleep: Sleeping on your back can result in mucus dripping into your throat or acid reflux coming back up from your stomach. Also, sleeping on your back puts pressure on your chest and lungs, which makes breathing more difficult. However, lying face down or on your side can put pressure on your lungs.
  • Triggers in your bedroom and triggers that happen in the evening: You may find your blankets, sheets and pillows have dust mites, mold or pet hair on them. If youve been outside in the early evening, you may have brought pollen in with you.
  • Medication side effects: Some drugs that treat asthma, such as steroids and montelukast, can affect your sleep.
  • Air thats too hot or too cold: Hot air can cause airways to narrow when you breathe in. Cold air is an asthma trigger for some people.
  • Lung function changes: Lung function lessens at night as a natural process.
  • Asthma is poorly controlled during the day: Symptoms that arent controlled during the day wont be better at night. Its important to work with your provider to make sure your asthma symptoms are controlled both day and night. Treating nighttime symptoms is very important. Serious asthma attacks, and sometimes deaths, can happen at night.

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Who Should Get Tested For Current Infection

  • People who have symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Most people who have had close contact with someone with confirmed COVID-19.
  • Fully vaccinated people should be tested 3-5 days following a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.
  • People who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 3 months and recovered do not need to get tested following an exposure as long as they do not develop new symptoms.
  • Unvaccinated people who have taken part in activities that put them at higher risk for COVID-19 because they cannot physically distance as needed to avoid exposure, such as travel, attending large social or mass gatherings, or being in crowded or poorly-ventilated indoor settings.
  • People who have been asked or referred to get tested by their healthcare provider, or state, tribal, localexternal icon, or territorialhealth department.
  • CDC recommends that anyone with any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 get tested, regardless of vaccination status or prior infection. If you get tested because you have symptoms or were potentially exposed to the virus, you should stay away from others pending test results and follow the advice of your health care provider or a public health professional.

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    How To Help Someone Having An Asthma Attack

    Diagnosing Asthma: Mild, Moderate and Severe

    This article was medically reviewed by Daniel Wozniczka, MD, MPH. Dr. Wozniczka is an Internal Medicine Physician in Chicago, with global healthcare experience in Sub Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. He completed his MD at Jagiellonian University in 2014, and also holds an MBA and Masters in Public Health from the University of Illinois at Chicago.There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 20,530 times.

    Having an asthma attack can be frightening. It can also be frightening to see someone you know, or even a stranger, have an asthma attack. The person may be panicking, especially if they do not have their inhaler. Fortunately, you can help! Assist someone having an asthma attack by getting the appropriate medical assistance, helping them to remain calm, and using simple techniques to help improve their breathing.

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    Why Do I Need Extra Tests For Severe Asthma

    You may have had tests for your asthma already. But if your doctor thinks you could have severe asthma, youll need extra tests to confirm it or to find out what else might be causing your symptoms or triggering your asthma. And if you do have severe asthma, youll need further tests to monitor symptoms and treatments.

    The tests will help you and your specialist team find out if you have:

    • severe asthma or not
    • allergic or non-allergic severe asthma
    • other conditions that are causing your symptoms or stopping you from managing your asthma well.

    Not everyone will need all of these tests. Your asthma specialist will explain which ones could be useful for you and why. They can also support you if youre worried or nervous about any of the tests.

    There may be some tests you need to do more than once to help your asthma specialist make the right diagnosis or monitor you closely.

    If you don’t like the idea of having lots of tests, remember they are there to help you manage your asthma better and hopefully get back some control over your symptoms.

    What Is Good Asthma Care

    Your doctor or nurse will tailor your asthma treatment to your symptoms. Sometimes you may need to be on higher levels of medication than at others.

    You should be offered:

    • care at your GP surgery provided by doctors and nurses trained in asthma management
    • full information about your condition and how to control it
    • involvement in making decisions about your treatment
    • regular checks to ensure your asthma is under control and your treatment is right for you
    • a written personal asthma action plan agreed with your doctor or nurse

    It is also important that your GP or pharmacist teaches you how to properly use your inhaler, as this is an important part of good asthma care.

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    Bronchodilation And Bronchoprovocation Tests

    These tests gauge how well the lungs respond to either a quick-relief asthma medication or an intentional disturbance to normal airflow. They usually are done if spirometry is normal in spite of asthma symptoms.

    • Bronchodilator responsiveness testing: A bronchodilator is a fast-acting medication that provides quick relief of asthma symptoms. This test involves administering a bronchodilater and, 10 to 15 minutes later, repeating an initial spirometry test and comparing the results. If the medication brings about an increase in airflow of 12%, it is an indication that asthma is the cause of symptoms.
    • Bronchoprovocation challenge testing: This test involves inhaling either aerosolized chemicals or cold air, or performing exercises, to see if it induces asthma symptoms. By measuring lung function after exposure to these triggers, a doctor may be able to diagnose asthma.

    Tips For When You Dont Have An Inhaler

    When to See the Best Doctor for Asthma?

    Mild to moderate asthma attacks can occur at inopportune times. You may be able to manage your asthma more effectively with these tips. If these dont work CALL AN AMBULANCE.

  • Sit upright. This opens your airway. Dont bend over or lie down, as doing this constricts your airway even more.
  • Slow down your breathing by taking long, deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose. Exhale through your mouth. You want to prevent hyperventilation.
  • Stay calm. Anxiety tightens your chest and back muscles, which makes it more difficult to breathe.
  • Get away from the trigger. If you can get away from your trigger, do so. Move into clean air, preferably an air-conditioned environment, and try to take slow, deep breaths once youre in a safe place.
  • Drink a warm, caffeinated beverage, such as coffee or tea. Caffeine has similar properties to some asthma medications and can help temporarily improve airway functions.
  • Get medical help. If you cant get the wheezing, coughing or breathing difficulties under control, its important to get help.
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    What To Do In An Asthma Attack:

    1. Sit up straight

    2. Take your reliever medication as directed. Use your Asthma Action Plan for reference.

    3. Call 911 if your symptoms persist or worsen. Do this if you feel worse at any point or if there is no improvement after taking your medication.

    4. Follow-up with your doctor or healthcare provider

    An asthma attack can be a life-threatening emergency thats why you should always carry your reliever inhaler with you and never hesitate to call 911 if your symptoms persist.

    Who Can Get Asthma

    Anyone can develop asthma at any age. People with allergies or people exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to develop asthma. This includes secondhand smoke and thirdhand smoke .

    Statistics show that people assigned female at birth tend to have asthma more than people assigned male at birth. Asthma affects Black people more frequently than other races.

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    What Can An Allergist Do For A Child With Asthma

    An allergist can set your child on the right track for long-term control by helping you create an action plan with treatment goals for your child. With the right treatment, your child can sleep through the night, avoid missing day care or school and breathe more easily.

    Asthma symptoms may be triggered or worsened by certain events: Colds or other respiratory infections. Allergy-causing agents , such as dust, pet dander or pollen. Activity or exercise. In infants, feeding. Exposure to cigarette smoke or other airborne irritants.

    Additional Tests: Ruling Out Conditions Other Than Asthma

    Confirming the Diagnosis of Asthma

    If your doctor suspects that you have a condition in addition to or other than asthma, you may need tests such as:

    • X-ray or computerized tomography imaging of your chest
    • CT scans of your sinuses
    • Gastroesophageal reflux assessment
    • Examination of the phlegm in your lungs for signs of a viral or bacterial infection

    Your doctor may also want to see whether you have other conditions that often accompany asthma and can worsen symptoms. These include:

    Your doctor may also perform allergy tests. These can be skin tests, blood tests or both. Although not used to diagnose asthma, allergy tests can help identify an allergic condition, such as hay fever, that may be causing your symptoms or worsening existing asthma.

    Sometimes, diagnosing the cause of breathing problems is a challenge. It can be difficult to differentiate asthma from other conditions particularly in young children.

    When asthma coexists with another condition that affects breathing, it can further complicate diagnosis.

    Even if a diagnosis isnt certain, your doctor may prescribe medications or other treatment to see what helps. It may take time and patience to get the correct diagnosis and determine the best course of treatment.

    © 1998-2019 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research . All rights reserved.Terms of use.

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    When Diagnosing Asthma Medical Histories Physical Exam And Lung Function Tests Come First

    Whether youre visiting your primary care physician or a specialist, your doctor will likely take your personal and medical history, perform a physical exam, and take a lung function test to determine if asthma is the cause of your symptoms. These steps involve:

    • A Personal and Medical History Personal and medical histories will include questions about your symptoms, when they occur, how long youve been dealing with them, if anything has made you feel better or worse, and whether any one in your family tree had asthma or breathing problems. Its helpful to your doctor if you keep a log or journal of your symptoms. Also, take some time to think about your family history, before your appointment.
    • A Physical Exam Your doctor will listen to you breathe and listen to your heart . He or she will also examine your nose, mouth, and ears for signs of inflammation or irritation, which could signal either asthma or the presence of some other ailment. Your doctor will also check your skin for rashes, and signs of eczema, which causes redness and dryness and is associated with both allergies and asthma.
    • A Pulmonary Function Test There are several different breathing tests, also known as pulmonary function tests , that a doctor may use to diagnose asthma. Types of lung function test are detailed in the next section.

    Is Diagnosing Asthma In Children Different Than Diagnosing Adults

    In kids age 5 and older, the diagnostic process is more or less the same as the one doctors use to diagnose asthma in adults. But in younger children, a doctor may make a diagnosis based only on symptoms, family history, and a physical exam.

    With additional reporting by Quinn Phillips and Markham Heid.

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    What Can I Do To Reduce Asthma Symptoms

    • Learn your childs triggers.
    • Allergens like dust mites, pets, pests, molds and pollen can play a role in some childrens asthma. Discuss with your health care provider whether an evaluation by an allergist may be helpful.
    • Follow your asthma management plan and give the medicines prescribed by your childs doctor.

    What Causes An Asthma Attack


    An asthma attack can happen when you are exposed to asthma triggers. Your asthma triggers can be very different from someone elses asthma triggers. Know your triggers and learn how to avoid them. Watch out for an attack when you cant avoid your triggers. Some of the most common triggers are tobacco smoke, dust mites, outdoor air pollution, cockroach allergen, pets, mold, smoke from burning wood or grass, and infections like flu.

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    Approach To Asthma Diagnosis

    Asthma should be suspected in patients with recurrent respiratory symptoms, particularly cough, wheeze, chest tightness and dyspnea. Alternative diagnoses should be excluded. An objective lung function test such as spirometry can be used to confirm airway obstruction and to demonstrate reversibility of obstruction with bronchodilator medication.


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