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How is Asthma Diagnosed?

Currently, over 26 million people in the United States have asthma and 7.1 million of them are children. These numbers are proof that asthma is a prevalent chronic lung condition that many people have.

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lung check-up - asthma
X-ray taken from the lungs

A known long-term disease, asthma occurs when the airways of the lungs are inflamed, causing uncomfortable symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.

Now that we know its prevalence, how is it possible to know if you have asthma?

Diagnosing asthma: an overview

Apparently, there is no single test used to confirm the presence of asthma. Typically, your doctor makes a diagnosis of asthma if you have breathing symptoms that often come and go as well as occurrences when air does not circulate in and out of the lungs as it normally would. While airflow can vary even in healthy people, such as when someone has a cough or colds, people with asthma manifest a significant difference in how well their lungs function as compared to those without the condition.

Medical and family histories   

If you have had yourself checked for specific breathing symptoms, your doctor may carry on with the assessment by asking more about your medical history—such as how often your symptoms occur or if they get worse at night or during certain times of the year. Your doctor may also want to know about certain factors that seem to put off your symptoms, which could be possible triggers.

Aside from your history of related health conditions, your doctor will inquire about any family history and allergies to determine your chances of getting the same condition.

Lung function tests

Once a physical assessment has been performed, you may need to undergo a series of breathing tests to measure your breathing and assess your lung function. These tests are usually done after you inhale a bronchodilator, a medication that opens up the airways. If your lung function significantly improves after the medication is inhaled, chances are that you may have asthma.

One recommended lung function test to confirm asthma is spirometry. During the test, you will be asked to breathe into a mouthpiece that’s connected to a spirometer, a device that will measure the air that you are able to inhale and expel. Your doctor may also recommend a peak airflow test that is performed using a peak flow meter. This will measure how much you can force air out from your lungs.

Classifying asthma

When classifying the severity of your asthma, your doctor will not only base the condition from your test results but also consider your answers to questions regarding your symptoms, including how bad they are and how often you get them. It is important to determine your asthma severity as it helps your doctor to choose the most appropriate treatment for your condition. Moreover, its severity may change over time so it may require treatment adjustments over time.

Your asthma may be classified as mild intermittent when mild symptoms last up to two days per week and lasting two nights a month. Meanwhile, it is considered mild persistent when symptoms occur more than twice a week. A moderate persistent asthma, on the other hand, is when symptoms happen once a day and more than a single night a week, while a severe persistent asthma occurs throughout the day especially at night. Once you experience these symptoms, your blood oxygen saturation may be measured through the use of a Nonin pulse oximetry device, which is often found in the clinical setting.

Although asthma is a long-term disease that stays with a person, it is a highly manageable condition that shouldn’t drastically affect your quality of life with early diagnosis, the right treatment, and a healthy lifestyle.