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Asthma symptoms include a cough, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness.

Asthma symptoms include a cough, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness.
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Asthma diagnosis

There is no single test for asthma. Your doctor will decide if you have asthma based on talking to you, examining you and performing some objective breathing tests.

They will evaluate:

  • what your symptoms are, how frequently these occur, and whether you notice any improvement with medicine (if you are using anti-asthma treatment)
  • your medical history
  • your family history
  • whether you have allergies
  • what things or situations cause you to have symptoms (your triggers)
  • your lung function (possibly using tests like spirometry or peak flow monitoring).

To assess how well your lungs work, a breathing test called 'spirometry' is carried out. You will be asked to breathe into a machine called a 'spirometer', which measures the amount of air you can breathe out as well as your lung capacity and other measurements.

A small hand-held device known as a 'peak flow meter' can be used to measure how fast you can blow air out of your lungs in one breath. This is your peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR), and the test is usually called a 'peak flow test'. Due to a large variation in what is a ‘normal’ peak flow, monitoring is not done to identify asthma, but it may be used to monitor whether the airways are changing in some individuals with asthma.

Some people may need more tests, such as airway responsiveness, airway inflammation or allergy testing.

Just diagnosed with asthma

While there is no cure for asthma, there are a number of treatments that can help effectively control this condition.

Treatment is based on two important goals:

  • relieving symptoms 
  • preventing future symptoms and attacks from developing.

Asthma can also develop at any age. If you are diagnosed with asthma as a child, the symptoms may disappear during your teenage years. However, asthma can return in adulthood. If childhood symptoms of asthma are moderate to severe, it is more likely that the condition will persist or return later in life.

Successful prevention of 'attacks' can be achieved through a combination of medicines, lifestyle advice and identifying and then avoiding potential asthma triggers.

Patient organisations have local groups where you can meet others who have been diagnosed with asthma and undergone treatment. You may also find it helpful to talk about your experience of asthma with others in a similar position.

Last reviewed: July 2016

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