How do you know if you have asthma? It’s a question worth looking into since the epidemiological evidence reveals that the rates of clinically diagnosed asthma are increasing, especially in children.
Symptoms of Asthma
The first indication of asthma may be a full-blown asthma attack, but more often it will be more minor symptoms like mild shortness of breath, tightening of the chest, whistling or wheezing sounds upon exhalation, and coughing. Coughing is a very common early symptom in children. Some cough to the point of vomiting. If you experience any of these symptoms, you may want to be evaluated for asthma by a physician, especially if you have a family history of asthma, have allergies, live in an urban environment with air pollution, or are exposed to agricultural or industrial toxins. You may also want to see a doctor if the condition becomes worse during cold weather or when you exercise.
A physician evaluating you for asthma will generally review your symptoms, take a family history, specifically looking for evidence of asthma among your family members, listen to your breathing, and test your lung function with a peak flow monitor or a spirometer. A peak flow monitor measures the quickest rate at which air can be expelled from the patient’s lungs, and a spirometer measures bronchial constriction. A doctor may also administer a methacholine bronchial challenge, which is a test that checks for asthma by administering a dose of methacholine, a substance that will trigger a mild asthmatic response in vulnerable people. A nitric oxide test can also check the amount of nitric oxide in a patient’s exhaled air. Patients with inflamed airways will have a higher than normal amount of nitric oxide in their exhaled air. Patients are also often tested for allergies that are common triggers for asthma attacks.
Other Conditions to Rule Out
Asthma is a difficult condition to diagnose, because it shares symptoms with many other illnesses. Even after examination and testing, physicians often have to rule out a list of possibilities before diagnosing asthma. Bronchitis, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are among the conditions that have to be ruled out before asthma can be diagnosed.
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