Healthy Living

How Asthma Is Diagnosed

How Asthma Is Diagnosed

Asthma generates a bunch of questions with ill-defined answers leaving sufferers with an incurable disease and a lifelong handicap. Asthma broadly affects us in three ways. It could develop as an allergic response to our surroundings. It may come about when we are exposed to toxins in our workplace. The third way could be through a lung infection that becomes chronic with the passage of time, and obstructs air passages. A combination of the lung specialist, allergist, and the immunologist would be ideal in diagnosing asthma and explaining how it affects our health.

Is it asthma or something that is mimicking the condition?

It could be influenza or an infection that has metamorphosed into pneumonia or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and not asthma because basic symptoms will appear similar. Only a qualified doctor will be able to diagnose the illness using an array of tests and diagnostic tools.

The physical symptoms that point to asthma

  • Coughing that is chronic and shows no signs of reduction
  • Wheezing that creates constant pain and discomfort, sleep being the first indicator
  • Pronounced tightening of the chest in response to the contraction of air passages
  • Sleeplessness because of poor lung function
  • Extreme tiredness due to oxygen deprivation

Family trees can reveal a great deal

Parents, grandparents and their siblings offer valuable clues to diseases that could possibly be transferring genetically to offspring. The doctor will closely probe the individual and family medical history, seeking answers to the following questions:

  • Has any family member suffered from eczema or an allergic skin condition?
  • Is there a history of allergic rhinitis? (burning nose sensation)
  • Was anybody in the family asthmatic, and do you currently from suffer congestion, wheezing, and chest pain?

The major diagnostic tests that reveal the inner details of the asthmatic condition

1.     Lung function test (LFT)

  • Measures the quantum of air that you breathe and exhale, and assesses what remains as residual air in the lungs.
  • Measures the efficiency with which oxygen is absorbed and carbon dioxide is exhaled.

Overall, the LFT gives the doctor a very good idea about the primary health of the organ and also how well it is responding to medication.

2.     Miscellaneous tests that measure specific conditions

  • Allergy testing through analysis of blood samples is the favored way of determining if an allergen is provoking the asthma attack.
  • In Bronchoprovocation, the air passages are selectively exposed to allergens, and the inflammatory response is measured.
  • Tests that rule out lung damage through acid reflux (ingestion of toxic fumes), or sleep disorder (sleep apnea).
  • Imaging tests like X-rays, CAT and PET scans and sonography assess the extent of internal damage, and also rule out more serious conditions like lung cancer.  

Diagnosing asthma in children is problematic

Small children below 5 years of age are normally not exposed to X-rays, CAT scans, PET scans and Lung Function tests for their own health and safety. Without these diagnostic aids, it becomes even more challenging for the consulting physician to diagnose asthma in children and separate underlying symptoms from those of similar conditions like COPD.

The most reliable way to diagnose asthma in children is by probing the medical history of the parents and their siblings and by subjecting the child to a closer physical examination, besides noting the obvious external signs of discomfort.

The child's situational hazards also need to be assessed. For example, is the child developing symptoms only in certain locations or following changes in weather? Do symptoms become aggravated only during particular seasons in the year or only in the night?   

The doctor carefully diagnoses the ailment to determine its severity so that the most appropriate treatment can be administered.