How to Diagnose Asthma

Asthma is a chronic lung disease affecting people of different age, race, gender and ethnicity. Although no one knows what causes asthma, triggers may include allergies, stress, and exercise. Diagnosis of asthma involves taking a thorough history of the patient and family, performing physical exam and additional tests. In some cases a specialist may need to be involved if the patient experienced a life-threatening asthma attack; the patient needs more than one kind of medicine or higher doses to control the asthma; the patient has difficulty controlling the asthma; or if the patients is considering allergy treatments (National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), 2012). Proper diagnosis of asthma will help the patient and physician understand what triggers to avoid and how to maintain asthma attacks, leading to an overall improvement in the quality of life.

Understanding the patient and family history is vital for a diagnosis, and helps rule out other conditions with similar symptoms as asthma, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and bronchitis. Medical and family history includes asking a series of questions in order to determine proper treatments and diagnosis. Questions may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • How are your stress levels?
  • Do you smoke?
  • What symptoms do you experience?
  • How often do you experience these symptoms?
  • How long have you been experiencing these symptoms
  • Has any other family members been diagnosed with asthma?

Testing for Asthma
There are several different tests to verify asthma and they include: spirometry tests (to test function of the lungs), bronchoprovocation (testing sensitivity of airways), chest x-ray, electrocardiogram, or allergy tests (National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), 2012). These tests help physicians diagnose asthma and provide proper treatment regimens.

According to the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEP), there are several signs that physicians and patients should pay attention to in order to diagnose asthma. One of the key symptoms of asthma is when wheezing is a high pitched whistling sound when the patient breathes out (especially in children). Other symptoms indicative of asthma are a history of a cough that is worse at night, a history of a recurrent wheeze, difficulty in breathing, or chest tightness. In addition, symptoms tend to occur or worsen at night as well as during exercise. Other factors that may worsen asthma include viral infections; allergens (animal fur, house-dust mites, mold pollen); irritants (tobacco or wood smoke, airborne chemicals); weather changes; laughing or crying hard; stress; or menstrual cycles (National Asthma Education and Prevention Program, 2007). Paying attention to these signs can help the physician and patient understand what to avoid to help reduce the risk of asthma attacks, and which treatment options are best.


  1. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). (2012, June 15). How is asthma diagnosed. Retrieved from
  2. National Asthma Education and Prevention Program. (2007, October). Guidelines for diagnosis and management of asthma. Retrieved from