Diagnosing asthma can be tricky. There is no simple test. Instead, evaluating three key symptoms helps doctors make a diagnosis, explains Dr. Stanley P. Galant, an asthma, allergy and immunology specialist at CHOC Children’s and the medical director of the CHOC Breathmobile.
Children experiencing cough, shortness of breath – especially during and after exercise or when suffering from a cold, and wheezing should be checked for asthma.
“Asthma is a condition associated with a chronic or intermittent cough that generally comes on in the middle of the night and with exercise,” says Dr. Galant. “One big clue to help diagnose asthma versus another condition or illness has to do with this chronic cough. A diagnosis of asthma is suggested when the cough responds well to medication that opens the airways and dilates the bronchial tubes.”
Asthma symptoms can be triggered by environmental factors, like second-hand smoke, and allergens. In fact, children with asthma—roughly 70 percent—have allergies, which play a big role in diagnosing and controlling the condition.
If a child has persistent asthma – roughly defined as trouble more than twice a week during the day in terms of coughing and wheezing and trouble more than twice a month at night, the child should have skin testing or blood testing for allergies. Allergy testing helps pinpoint triggers for asthma so families can make changes at home to reduce or eliminate them.
Avoiding triggers is a key factor to managing asthma. Second is medication. Allergy shots can also be helpful in certain patients. Parents should discuss the appropriate options with their child’s physician.