How Asthma is Diagnosed and Treated

How Asthma is Diagnosed and Treated

How can you be sure that you, your child, or some close to you has asthma? It can be scary to hear that you or a loved one has been diagnosed with respiratory sensitivity, but there are ways to manage the condition and live an active life.

How will my or my child’s doctor know if it’s asthma?

Doctors may diagnose asthma based on screening questionnaires, lung function test, medical history, and a physical exam. Doctor’s often use spirometry leaving site icon, a test to determine how lungs are working. This test measures how much air can be breathed in and out. It also measures how fast air is blown out.

Based on the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms, the doctor will also determine if the asthma whether is intermittent or varying degrees of persistent, to help select the type and frequency of treatment.

How can I manage my child’s asthma?

In addition to monitoring symptoms, health care providers may recommend older children and adults with  asthma  to use a peak-flow meter as part of an Asthma Action Plan.   

peak-flow meter leaving site icon is a handheld device that measures how well air is moving out of a person’s lungs. You blow hard into the device, and it shows a number. Your doctor may ask you to repeat this three times and record the highest reading. This number can then be compared to an ideal or estimate peak flow measure to estimate how well one’s lungs are working at the time. People should ideally do peak flows on a regular basis to have a good idea of what their personal normal numbers average (see below).

In some cases, although a person may be feeling fine. A drop in the peak-flow meter number may show that asthma is starting to flare up. But by catching the problem early, you can treat it right away before things get worse. 

What do I need to know about asthma?

Asthma makes airways swollen and very sensitive to certain things, commonly known as asthma triggers. 

When a trigger causes an asthma flare-up, three main things occur: 

  1. Muscles around your lung airways may tighten, making the airways narrower  
  2. The airways also become swollen with inflammation, narrowing them further  
  3. The airways may make extra mucus, clogging them even more

These changes lessen the amount of air getting through a person’s airways. The result can be asthma symptoms. The good news: you can often prevent the changes or ease the symptoms by following a Asthma Action Plan recommended by your Doctor. 

What are peak-flow meter numbers? 

Ask your doctor to help you find your or your loved one’s personal best peak-flow meter number. Then you can compare new peak-flow meter numbers to this personal best to see how things are going. Here are some general guidelines that can be thought of similar to a green/yellow/red traffic stoplight: 

  • 80 percent to 100 percent of your child’s personal best: Asthma is likely well-controlled (e.g. in the green or go zone) . If the doctor has prescribed a long-term control medication, make sure you take it every day as prescribed. 
  • 50 percent to 80 percent of your child’s personal best: Asthma is getting worse (e.g in the yellow or caution zone). Use a quick-relief inhaler in addition to controller medication, following the directions in your Asthma Action Plan.
  • Less than 50 percent of your child’s personal best: Your child’s asthma is in the danger , or red, zone and getting prompt medical care is likely needed. Follow any specific instructions on your Asthma Action Plan Call 911 or go to the emergency room. 

Medication is also important in treating asthma. There are two main types of asthma medication. Many people with asthma take both types. Your child’s Asthma Action Plan should tell exactly how and when to use medication. Your child’s medication needs may change over time. If you have questions, ask your child’s doctor. 

Using an inhaler 

Most asthma medications are taken by inhaler with a device called a holding chamber or with a nebulizer, a machine that includes compressor tubing and a mask to deliver the medication. Both help your child breathe in the medication so that it goes straight to the lungs. Make sure your child knows how to use the equipment correctly. Your child’s doctor, nurse or pharmacist can teach you and your child the right way.  

Working together with your asthma team can help you manage your child’s asthma. While asthma is a condition that typically doesn’t go way, by keeping on top of it, your child can enjoy a healthy and active life.  

To learn more about Asthma and the Taking on Asthma initiative, visit our website.

Sources: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; American Lung Association 
Originally published: June 22, 2016