Asthma treatment depends on your doctor's diagnosis
Doctors diagnose asthma based on medical and family histories, a physical exam, and test results. Your doctor will determine if the asthma is intermittent (occurs off and on) or persistent, and if it's mild, moderate or severe—and prescribe the correct treatment for the level of severity. Use the asthma symptoms checklist to help you start that discussion.
Medical and family histories
Your doctor will want to know you or your child's medical history, and whether any family members have asthma or allergies. You may be asked:
- What are the asthma symptoms?
- When and how often do they occur?
- Do they only happen at certain times of the year?
- Only at certain places?
- Are they worse at night?
- What triggers the symptoms?
- What makes them worse?
- Does anyone in the family have asthma?
- Are there related health conditions that can interfere with asthma management, such as:
- A runny nose
- Sinus infections
- Psychological stress
- Sleep apnea
Your doctor may listen to your breathing for signs of asthma or allergies. These include wheezing, a runny nose or swollen nasal passages, and allergic skin conditions (such as eczema). You can still have asthma even if these signs aren't present.
Respiratory diagnostic tests
Don’t let the names scare you. These tests may be performed right in a doctor's office.
Determines how much air you can exhale from your lungs. First, you breathe in deeply and then exhale strongly into the tube of a spirometer. If you don't meet the standard for your age and gender, you then inhale a bronchodilator—an asthma drug that widens the air passages of the lungs and eases breathing. If, after repeating the test, your lung function has improved, the doctor may suspect asthma.
Measures the sensitivity of the airways. Your doctor may suggest this test if you have symptoms that suggest asthma, but have normal spirometry testing and no response to rescue medications.
A newer test called an IOS (impulse oscillometry) is a quick and easy diagnostic test for asthma that works well in children. IOS requires little coordination or cooperation (just brief, normal breathing into a mouthpiece). It measures airway resistance, while the patient engages in normal breathing.
FeNO (fractional exhaled nitric oxide)
A noninvasive and easily available method for diagnosing asthma is the measurement of FeNO (fractional exhaled nitric oxide). This test measures the amount of nitric oxide (NO) in the lungs. Nitric oxide is a marker of inflammation.
Your doctor may also recommend an allergy test to find out which allergens (such as pollen, pet dander and dust), if any, are asthma triggers.
Your doctor may ask for a test to show whether another condition is present with symptoms similar to those found in asthma, such as reflux disease, vocal cord dysfunction or sleep apnea. A chest X-ray or an EKG (electrocardiogram) may also be required to find out whether a foreign object in the airways or another disease might be causing symptoms.
If your doctor diagnoses persistent mild-to-moderate asthma, ask if QVAR® may be the right asthma treatment for you.
Think your child may have asthma? Learn about recognizing asthma in children.