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How is asthma diagnosed?

An asthma diagnosis, including what type you have, can take some time. Your doctor may ask you what signs and symptoms you have been experiencing, as well as how long you’ve been experiencing them.

They may also carry out the following:

A review of your medical history (including your family history of respiratory conditions)4

Give you a physical exam that may include looking at your ears, eyes, nose, throat, chest and upper airways17

Ask you to perform a lung function test that measures how fast you can force air out of your lungs (“peak airflow”) and the amount of air you can inhale and exhale (“spirometry”)4. As part of the lung function test, how quickly airway constriction reverses after medication can also be assessed 

Your doctor may take a few more steps to see if  your asthma is triggered by allergies as this may require a specific type of preventative treatment, or a change in the dose of any current medicines you may have been prescribed.

For this reason, your doctor may also decide to perform some tests, such an IgE test, an airway test or chest x-ray.

What is an IgE test? info

An IgE test measures the levels of IgE, or immunoglobulin E, in your blood4 - so your doctor or nurse will need to take a small sample of your blood. IgE is a type of antibody. Antibodies help our bodies fight foreign objects that our bodies think are threats, such as infection or, in the case of severe asthma, allergens18. For people with asthma made worse by allergens such as household dust or pet dander, allergen triggers may cause levels of IgE to increase which can cause asthma symptoms like wheezing, difficulty breathing and chest tightness19.

Skin tests to help diagnosis info

You may also have a skin test to see whether you have an allergic response to allergens when they are placed on your skin4. The best way to find out if you are allergic to allergens is by a “prick” or “scratch” test. This means that allergens are pricked or scratched into your skin’s surface and if you are allergic to any of the allergens used, redness, itching, and swelling may occur where the skin test was taken after about 15 minutes20. Skin tests are done by a doctor or nurse to confirm whether you are allergic to any allergens, and importantly, which ones.

Other tests your doctor may suggest info

Other tests your doctor may suggest21

  • A bronchoprovocation test: this test measures how sensitive your airways are and uses a spirometry test to measure  your lung function during physical activity, or after you receive doses of cold air (or a special chemical provided by your doctor)
  • A test to show whether you have another condition with symptoms similar to asthma, such as reflux disease, vocal cord dysfunction, or sleep apnea
  • A chest x ray or an EKG (electrocardiogram). These tests will help find out whether a foreign object in your airways or another disease might be causing your symptoms, or if you can have a different respiratory disease that can be detected with a radiography