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Asthma Diagnosis and Treatment

How is Asthma Diagnosed?

Asthma is diagnosed during a medical exam that checks breathing (lung function) and allergies.  

The health care provider may ask questions about:

  • Coughing (especially at night)
  • Difficulty breathing (especially after physical activity or when it's hot or cold)
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Colds that last more than 10 days
  • Family histories of asthma and allergies
  • Your home environment: tobacco smoke, pets, heating systems, etc.
  • Days missed from school or work

Spirometry is a medical test that measures the breathing power of the lungs.  This is another way for a health care provider to diagnose asthma.  A piece of equipment called a spirometer is used.  The patient takes a deep breath, exhales completely, and then breaths into the spirometer.  The spirometer measures the amount of air a person can breathe and assists the health care provider to determine if the person has asthma.

Asthma is not always easy to diagnose, especially for children under the age of five.  Regular physical exams that include checks of lung breathing and checks for allergies can help health care providers to make the correct diagnosis.

How is Asthma Treated?

Asthma can be controlled and managed by:

Medicine for asthma is different for each person. The type of medicines that will be prescribed will depend upon whether the person with asthma has mild, moderate or severe asthma.

Two types of asthma medicines:

  • Quick-Relief Medicines - quickly relieve asthma attacks. Quick-relief medicine is taken when an asthma attack begins. For example, if a person is using her quick-relief medicine more and more frequently, her asthma is probably not being controlled well by the long-term medicine.  This should be discussed with her health care provider.  There may be another type of medicine that could be more effective.
  • Long-Term Control Medicines - help to reduce the number of asthma attacks, but don't relieve the attack when it is happening. Long-term control medicine is usually taken every day, even if the person with asthma does not have an asthma attack very often.     

Health care providers will prescribe both types of medicine

Asthma Action Plans: 

The Asthma Action Plan contains individually tailored plans for medications to take and actions to follow when an asthma attack occurs or when it gets worse. This plan is filled out with a health care provider's assistance. The seriousness of a life-threatening asthma attack can often be avoided when a person with asthma and his or her health care provider work together to create a personal Asthma Action Plan that can be followed when an attack happens.  

Parents of children with asthma might decide to give the following people a copy of their child's Asthma Action Plan in case of an emergency:

  • day care staff
  • teacher
  • school nurse
  • principal
  • babysitter
  • grandparents

An Asthma Action Plan will inform an adult what needs to be done when an asthma attack happens with the child and what to do if the attack gets worse.

Asthma and the Flu

Most people who have asthma (children and adults) should get a flu shot every year.

The flu is an infection. Infections can often make asthma worse. If a person who has asthma gets the flu, the flu can cause very serious health problems. If you or a loved one has asthma, please consult your doctor, nurse or other health care professional about getting a flu shot.