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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

2-minute read

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 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 breathing 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.

Just diagnosed with asthma

While there is no cure for asthma, a number of treatments 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 or talk on-line to people 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: June 2018

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Top results

What tests will I have? - An Asthma Australia site

There is no single test to diagnose severe asthma. Everyone with asthma is different, so the tests may vary depending on your individual asthma symptoms, medical history and any other conditions that your doctor needs to assess or rule out.

Read more on Asthma Australia website

What is spirometry? - An Asthma Australia site

Information about spirometry

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Asthma & Lung Function Tests - National Asthma Council Australia

Read more on National Asthma Council Australia website

Lung function tests (including spirometry) information | myVMC

Lung function tests include spirometry, peak expiratory flow, lung volume and diffusion capacity. They are used to assess respiratory conditions.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Getting ready for spirometry

How to get ready for spirometry

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Controlling asthma - An Asthma Australia site

Controlling asthma

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Allergy testing - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

Avoiding known allergic triggers is an important part of allergy and asthma management. Allergy testing (using Skin Prick tests or RAST blood tests) helps your doctor to confirm which allergens you are sensitive to, so that appropriate avoidance advice can be given.

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Skin prick testing for allergies information | myVMC

Skin prick tests are used to diagnose allergies. Allergens are placed on the skin, which is then pricked to see if an allergic reaction occurs.

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Confirming the diagnosis of severe asthma - An Asthma Australia site

It is important severe asthma is thoroughly investigated by a doctor and other diagnoses are ruled out.

Read more on Asthma Australia website

Asthma and older people - myDr.com.au

Find out about the diagnosis and management of asthma in older adults.

Read more on myDr website

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