Module 2. Diagnosing Asthma

*Please note: This slide show represents a visual interpretation and is not intended to provide, nor substitute as, medical and/or clinical advice.

Learning if you have asthma

To learn if you have asthma, see a doctor to be diagnosed. The doctor will ask you a few questions, examine you, and do lung tests and other tests. You might need some of these tests on a different day or after taking certain medicines.

Your medical, family history, and environment

Asthma can run in families, so your doctor will probably ask if anyone else in your family has asthma, allergies, or even colds that last a long time.

Your environment – meaning your home, outside your home, your place of work or other places you spend time – can cause asthma or make it worse. Your doctor will ask you about your environment. This includes if you have pets, live in an area with a lot of grass, mold, or traffic, and spend time around people who smoke.

Tests for asthma: Spirometry

An important asthma test called “spirometry” checks how well your lungs are working. You’ll be asked to blow into a machine as hard, fast, and long as you can. If you don’t blow air as much or as fast as healthy people, you could have asthma. You might take the test again after using a medicine that opens up the airways in your lungs. If your results improve, this is another sign of asthma.

Other tests for asthma

You might also have breathing tests after using a medicine that makes people with asthma do worse after taking it.

Or you might have a test that measures a certain gas, called nitric oxide, in your breath. People with some types of asthma breathe out more of it than other people do.

Other tests for asthma

Your doctor might order an X-ray and other scans to look at your lungs.

You might also have blood tests. One blood test checks the number of white cells called “eosinophils” in your blood. Some people with asthma have high levels of eosinophils. Another blood test checks the level of an antibody called IgE. Elevated IgE levels can be a sign of allergies. Skin tests may also be used to check for elevated IgE.

Looking inside your lungs: Bronchoscopy

A test called a “bronchoscopy” uses a tiny tube that goes inside your lungs. Through the tube, your doctor can take samples of mucus or fluid. The samples tell your doctor even more about your condition.

How severe is your asthma?

Your doctor also should assess the severity of your asthma. There are 4 main levels, or grades, of asthma: intermittent, mild, moderate, and severe.

Intermittent asthma

Intermittent asthma causes symptoms occasionally. For example, you probably have a cough 2 days a week or less. Your asthma does not affect daily activities, and your spirometry results are normal or almost normal.

Mild asthma

If you have mild asthma, you have symptoms more than twice a week but not every day. Your daily activities are slightly affected. You probably use a quick-relief medicine, such as an inhaler, more than twice a week and take a daily asthma controller medicine.

Moderate asthma

If you have moderate asthma, your symptoms wake you up often. You use your quick-relief inhaler every day, and having asthma impacts your daily activities. You take 1 or 2 daily controller medicines besides your quick-relief medicine.

Severe asthma

If you have severe asthma, your symptoms bother you each day and wake you up on many nights. You use your quick-relief inhaler several times a day. You probably take more than 2 asthma controller medicines, but still have symptoms. You might feel like asthma controls your life.

Controlling severe asthma

Knowing the cause of severe asthma can be helpful in controlling it. Severe asthma can be related to:
  • Allergies,
  • Your body producing too many of certain types of white blood cell, called eosinophils or neutrophils; or
  • Overdeveloped airway muscles.
An asthma specialist can prescribe specific treatment that can help.

Asthma and other health problems

Many people with asthma have other health conditions. Some do not affect your asthma very much, and some do, such as allergies, sinus problems, and heartburn. Treating these health conditions can be important to help control asthma.

Avoid asthma triggers

“Triggers” is the term for things that make your asthma worse. It’s important to learn about your asthma triggers and avoid them. Common triggers are cigarette smoke, dust, mold, grass or tree pollen, and pet or cockroach dander.

Asthma and your environment

Talk with your doctor or nurse about keeping your home clean and free of asthma triggers. For example, you can learn to avoid pollen and wash bedding to get rid of dust mites. If your home has mold or cockroaches, you or your landlord can fix the cause.

Getting regular asthma tests and care

If you have intermittent or mild asthma, you need to see a doctor regularly. If your asthma is moderate or severe, seeing an asthma specialist routinely is important.

Everyone with asthma needs spirometry testing to check how their lungs are working. You might also need other tests to check your asthma. With regular care, you can keep asthma under control as much as possible.

Slide Show - Diagnosing Asthma: Mild, Moderate, and Severe

This slide show will help you understand what’s involved in getting an asthma diagnosis, including what tests you might have, and why you might need them. This slide show also explains the 4 main levels, or grades, of asthma: intermittent, mild, moderate, and severe.
Animation - Diagnosing Asthma
1. Animation - Diagnosing Asthma
Slide Show - Diagnosing Asthma
2. Slide Show - Diagnosing Asthma