How is asthma diagnosed?

Health Watch

THIS is the continuation from last week. Today we will read about when to seek emergency assistance if a person:

  • Is not breathing;
  • the person’s asthma suddenly becomes worse or is not improving;
  • the person is having an asthma attack, and a reliever is not available;
  • you are not sure if it’s asthma;
  • the person is known to have Anaphylaxis; and,
  • Follow their anaphylaxis action plan, then give them asthma first-aid treatment.

If you suspect, you may have asthma talk to your doctor.
A diagnosis of asthma is more likely if you have eczema or hay-fever or have close relatives with allergies and/or asthma.
If your symptoms keep coming back, or happen at the same time each year, are worse at night or in the early morning, are clearly triggered by exercise, allergies or infections, or improve quickly with reliever medication, according to Asthma Australia.
The most certain way to diagnose asthma is with a lung function test, a medical history and a physical examination.
However, it’s hard to do lung function tests in children younger than five years and doctors must rely on children’s medical history, signs and symptoms and physical exams to make a diagnosis.
Doctors also may use a four-six week trial of asthma medicines to see how well a child responds.
In diagnosing asthma, your doctor will ask about your medical history as well as:
Physical examination: During a physical examination your doctor will listen to your breathing and look for signs of asthma or allergies such as wheezing, a runny nose or swollen nasal passages and allergic skin conditions (such as eczema).
Keep in mind that you can still have asthma even if you don’t have these signs on the day that your doctor examines you.

  • Spirometry tests – spirometry is the most accurate breathing test for asthma. It measures the amount of air you can breathe in and out of your lungs, and how hard and fast you can breathe out.
    The machine used to do the test is called a spirometer and tests your overall lung function.
    Doctors use a spirometer to: check whether the airways in your lungs are narrower than they should be, confirm whether you have asthma, work out how severe your asthma is, see if your asthma is getting worse, see if your asthma is getting better with treatment.
    The test results help you and your doctor to decide whether you need any medicines, or to work out whether the type or dose of your current medicine needs to change.
    Most adults and children over seven years of age can do the spirometry test correctly;
  • peak flow test – a peak flow test is done with a peak flow meter. It measures the maximum (or peak) speed at which you can blow air out.
    This gives an idea of how narrow your airways are. It also shows how much your airways are changing. However, a peak flow test cannot be used to confirm whether you have asthma.
    Your doctor may ask you to use a peak flow meter to check your asthma at home; and,
  • Allergy testing – asthma is strongly linked with allergies, many people will be required to have allergy testing usually through skin prick or blood (RAST) tests. Talk to your doctor.

Treatment and management of asthma
Centre for Disease Control and Prevention – You can control your asthma and avoid an attack by taking your medicine exactly as your doctor tells you to do and by avoiding things that can cause an attack.
Not everyone with asthma takes the same medicine, some medicines can be inhaled or breathed in and some can be taken as a pill.
Asthma medicines come in two types – quick-relief and long-term control. Quick-relief medicines control the symptoms of an asthma attack.
If you need to use your quick-relief medicines more and more, you should visit your doctor to see if you need a different medicine.
Long-term control medicines help you have fewer and milder attacks, but they don’t help you if you’re having an asthma attack.
Asthma medicines can have side effects, but most side effects are mild and soon go away.
Ask your doctor or other medical professional about the side effects of your medicines.
The important thing to remember is that you can control your asthma. With your doctor’s or other medical professional’s help, make your own asthma action plan (management plan) so that you know what to do based on your own symptoms.
It is important to see your doctor for regular check-ups to ensure you are on the right track with your asthma management.
Asthma and exercise
Exercise is great for health and well-being, and having asthma shouldn’t stop you playing sport or taking part in any other activity whether it is for fun or competitively.
Don’t let your asthma stop you being physically active, talk to your doctor.
The National Asthma Council of Australia states that if you get asthma symptoms when you get active, there are some things you can do:

  • Get as fit as possible – the fitter you are, the harder you need to work before symptoms start;
  • exercise in a place that is warm and humid – avoid cold, dry air if possible;
  • avoid exercising where there are high levels of pollens, dust, fumes or pollution;
  • breathe through your nose when you exercise;
  • do a proper warm-up and cool-down;
  • keep your reliever handy and be prepared if your asthma flares up.
    If your asthma does flare up, don’t ignore it or hope the symptoms will go away by themselves; and,
  • Take action – asthma symptoms after exercise are common but treatable.

If exercise triggers your asthma symptoms, tell your doctor so you can find the treatment that works best for you.
Preventing asthma episodes and controlling your asthma
For people with asthma, having an asthma management plan is the best way to prevent symptoms.
An asthma management plan is something developed by you and your doctor to help you control your asthma, instead of your asthma controlling you.
An effective plan should allow you to:

  • Be active without having asthma symptoms;
  • fully take part in exercise and sports;
  • sleep all night, without asthma symptoms;
  • attend school or work regularly;
  • have the clearest lungs possible;
  • have few or no side effects from asthma medications; and,
  • Have no emergency visits or stays in the hospital.

These could help.

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