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Asthma Diagnosis and Treatment

How Is Asthma Diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects you have asthma, they will perform a physical exam. They will look at your ears, eyes, nose, throat, skin, chest and lungs. This exam may include a lung function test to detect how well you are able to exhale air from your lungs. You may also need an X-ray of your lungs or sinuses.

To confirm an asthma diagnosis, your doctor may have you take one or more breathing tests known as lung function tests. These tests measure your breathing and how much air you can hold in your lungs. Lung function tests are often done before and after inhaling a medicine known as a bronchodilator, which opens your airways. If your lung function improves significantly with use of a bronchodilator, you likely have asthma.

If your lung function tests are inconclusive, there are other diagnostic tools that can rule out other causes, like testing for allergies and respiratory infections. If the cause is still unknown, a test known as the methacholine challenge can help clarify. Methacholine is a known asthma trigger that will cause narrowing of the airways in someone with asthma. Testing for how much nitric oxide is in your breath can also help confirm a diagnosis. People with asthma typically have elevated levels.

An asthma diagnosis means that you have a condition that you have to actively manage and monitor. Most people with asthma live full and fulfilling lives with an effective treatment plan. Our doctors at Banner Health are committed to helping people with asthma understand their diagnosis, access the best care and treatment and feel empowered to manage their condition effectively.

Treatment for Asthma

If you are diagnosed with asthma, your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan to manage your asthma symptoms and prevent asthma attacks. Treatment usually depends on your age, asthma severity and response to a given treatment option. Your doctor may adjust your treatment until asthma symptoms are controlled.

Most treatment plans include daily medication to help keep symptoms at bay and short-term relief medication to treat symptoms when they arise. These include:

Daily Control Medicines

This type of medication is taken daily, even if you are not experiencing symptoms, and works to reduce your airway inflammation and mucus production. This makes your airways less sensitive to triggers and prevents asthma flare-ups before they happen. Not everyone with asthma needs a long-term control medication. Your health care provider will determine your asthma severity and whether you need one.

Short-term Relief Medicines

Everyone with asthma should have access to quick-relief medication delivered with a metered-dose inhaler. Your quick-relief medication is used to treat asthma symptoms when they first begin. Within 10 to 15 minutes of use, your quick-relief medication should work to reduce squeezing of the muscles around your airways. If you are prescribed a quick-relief asthma inhaler, you should carry it at all times. Learn how to use an inhaler.

When to See a Doctor for Asthma

If you do not have an asthma diagnosis but are experiencing some of the signs and symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor to get tested. If you already have an asthma diagnosis, it’s important to see your asthma doctor, whether that’s your primary care physician or your allergist, annually so they can monitor it. And, if you ever notice that your symptoms are worsening, make an appointment to see what might be causing it or to revise your asthma action plan. Even well-managed asthma can sometimes get out of control and require additional treatment measures.

If your asthma is worsening despite your treatment plan, it might be time to make an appointment with a doctor.

When to Seek Emergency Treatment for Asthma

Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening and are cause for serious concern and medical attention. Talk to your doctor to determine what to do when your symptoms worsen and when you need emergency treatment. Signs of an asthma emergency include:

  • Rapid worsening of shortness of breath or wheezing
  • No improvement even after using a quick-relief inhaler
  • Shortness of breath when you are doing minimal physical activity