Your primary care doctor will diagnose asthma based on your medical and family histories, a physical exam, and test results.
Your doctor also will figure out the severity of your asthma—that is, whether it's intermittent, mild, moderate, or severe. The treatment your doctor prescribes will depend on the level of severity.
Your doctor may recommend that you see an asthma specialist if:
Your doctor may ask about your family history of asthma and allergies. He or she also may ask whether you have asthma symptoms and when and how often they occur.
Let your doctor know whether your symptoms seem to happen only during certain times of the year or in certain places, or if they get worse at night.
Your doctor also may want to know what factors seem to trigger your symptoms or worsen them. For more information about possible asthma triggers, go to "What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Asthma?"
Your doctor may ask you about related health conditions that can interfere with asthma management. These conditions include a runny nose, sinus infections, reflux disease, psychological stress, and sleep apnea.
Your doctor will listen to your breathing and look for signs of asthma or allergies. These signs include 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 when your doctor examines you.
Your doctor will use a test called spirometry (spi-ROM-eh-tre) to check how your lungs are working. This test measures how much air you can breathe in and out. It also measures how fast you can blow air out.
Your doctor may give you medicine and then retest you to see whether the results have improved.
If your test results are lower than normal and improve with the medicine, and if your medical history shows a pattern of asthma symptoms, your doctor will likely diagnose you with asthma.
Your doctor may recommend other tests if he or she needs more information to make a diagnosis. Other tests may include:
Most children who have asthma develop their first symptoms before 5 years of age. However, asthma in young children (infants to children 5 years old) can be hard to diagnose.
Sometimes it's hard to tell whether a child has asthma or another childhood condition. The symptoms of asthma are similar to the symptoms of other conditions.
Also, many young children who wheeze when they get colds or respiratory infections don't go on to have asthma. A child may wheeze because he or she has small airways that become narrow during colds or respiratory infections. The airways grow as the child grows, so wheezing no longer occurs as the child gets older.
A young child who has frequent wheezing with colds or respiratory infections is more likely to have asthma if:
The most certain way to diagnose asthma is with a lung function test, a medical history, and a physical exam. However, it's hard to do lung function tests in children younger than 5 years. Thus, doctors must rely on children's medical histories, signs and symptoms, and physical exams to make a diagnosis.
Doctors also may use a 4–6 week trial of asthma medicines to see how well a child responds.
Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Asthma, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.
Visit Children and Clinical Studies to hear experts, parents, and children talk about their experiences with clinical research.
May 8, 2013
NIH statement on Asthma Month 2013
For Asthma Awareness Month 2013, the National Institutes of Health stands with the international community to renew our dedication to improving the quality of life for the estimated 300 million people living with asthma worldwide. To most effectively manage asthma, we need to address the disproportionate impact of the disease on minorities and families at or below the poverty line. NIH is committed to reducing asthma disparities and improving asthma control for all who live with the disease.
The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.