Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Diagnosing Asthma

        Health | Asthma

When trying to diagnose asthma, your healthcare provider will investigate your symptoms, your medical history, your immediate family's medical history, and your physical condition. The goal in diagnosing asthma correctly is to help you manage your symptoms so you can lead a full life.

You may not be experiencing asthma symptoms at the time you see your doctor. However, your doctor may still be able to find out if you have asthma based on the symptoms that you report and the tests that are performed.

Asthma Facts

In order to determine if you have asthma, your doctor starts with the facts. Let's review two things we know about asthma.

  • The lifelong condition of asthma results in inflamed and blocked airways.
  • The symptoms of asthma are persistent coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, excess mucus, and chest tightness. These symptoms do not always mean that you have asthma. And all of the symptoms do not have to be present for you to be diagnosed with asthma. But when you do have all of them, asthma is much more likely.

Making the Asthma Diagnosis

Your doctor uses a number of methods to gather the facts he or she needs to make the right diagnosis. Most doctors follow this process:

  • examining your symptoms. Your doctor will ask about your current symptoms, your history of recurring symptoms, and what makes your symptoms better.
  • looking at your personal and family medical history. Next, your doctor will ask you detailed questions about your past medical history and any other medical conditions you may have now or have had in the past. He or she will also want to know if close family members have any history of asthma or related conditions.
  • conducting a thorough physical exam. Your doctor will examine you from head to toe, while looking for factors that may point to or rule out other medical causes for your symptoms.
  • obtaining medical tests. Your doctor can use specific medical tests to rule out other conditions, such as chest X-rays. Or, you may have breathing tests that can show clearly if you have asthma.

Once your doctor has gathered all of the facts and they show that you have asthma, he or she will decide what classification of asthma you fit into. When that is done, then you can work together to develop an Asthma Action Plan that is right for you.

Written by Karen Serrano, MD

Emergency Medicine resident at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Reviewed by Lisa V. Suffian, MD

Instructor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Allergy and Pulmonary Medicine at Saint Louis Children's Hospital, Washington University School of Medicine

Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, Saint Louis University

Board certified in Allergy and Immunology

Last updated June 2008


More to Explore