If you recognise any of these symptoms then your first step should be to visit your doctor to confirm the diagnosis. Evaluation of suspected asthma involves a combination of accurate patient history, physical findings and lung function tests.
To determine whether it is asthma, doctors often use two main sign posts:
is your breathing difficulty continuous or are there times when you breathe normally
whether you gain relief from taking asthma medication
The Patient History
Your doctor will ask you questions about your family history of asthma, your own medical history, your social life and the symptoms that you experience. This can account for about 90% of a correct diagnosis of asthma, so it is important that you answer honestly and include all details.
Taking A History
Your personal medical history is of particular importance, since linking triggers and symptoms can aid in the diagnosis of asthma. You should tell your doctor of any pattern related to the symptoms and possible precipitating factors such as exercise. Your doctor will start by asking about the type of symptoms you have: Do you wheeze or cough frequently? When do your symptoms appear – during exercise, at night? Do you produce a lot of mucus? Do you or any of your family members have a history of eczema, hay fever or allergic rhinitis?
To help your doctor with the diagnosis, print out the following asthma history form.
The Physical Examination
Your doctor will look at the way you breathe, the shape of your chest and listen with a stethoscope to identify the wheeze. He will also check your bodily functions such as the digestive, neurological and respiratory systems. Once your doctor has a grasp of your patient history and examined you, he will get you to blow into a peak flow meter.
With a peak flow meter you take a deep breath in and breathe out as quickly as possible. According to the theory, the peak flow meter measures the rate at which the air comes out of your lungs; the faster the air comes out, the less narrow your airways are. One peak flow test taken at the doctor’s office needs to be interpreted with caution because there is a wide normal range. Many people, especially children, have PEF readings when they are well which vary from mean predicted values, or values which fall within normal range but are low for their best. In some cases, the doctor will make you take the peak flow meter home to record your readings on a regular basis for two or more weeks.
Doctors may also use various forms of laboratory testing to assess the the extent of your condition.