Asthma diagnosis – recognising the disease and treating it in the most effective way possible

How is asthma diagnosed? If asthma is suspected, the doctor will first establish an accurate picture of your symptoms and will ask about previous diseases, diseases in the family and allergies. This is followed by a physical examination during which the doctor will listen to your lungs for typical signs of asthma. A lung function test is required for a clear diagnosis of asthma. Further tests can rule out other diseases or, in the case of allergic asthma, can determine what the triggers are.

Measuring breath flow: the lung function test

In this test, the patient blows into a mouthpiece with a special measuring device. This gives the doctor information about the volume of air you are breathing and lung function. The bronchospasmolysis test can provide further information: If the lung function test indicates narrowing of the bronchial tubes, the patient inhales a medication to expand the airways. If there is then an improvement, the suspicion that the patient has asthma is confirmed. If the result is normal, but it is still suspected that the patient has asthma, a provocation test can be performed. Here the patient breathes in a test substance that can identify whether the bronchial system is hypersensitive.

Finding the allergy trigger

Asthma often develops because of an allergy. To reach a clear diagnosis of asthma, the doctor checks if the patient is hypersensitive to certain allergens. Usually skin and blood tests can identify the allergy trigger. In what is known as the prick test, tiny amounts of test substances are applied to the skin of the lower arm, which is very lightly scratched. Reddening or swelling are positive reactions to the suspected substance. An additional blood test can also be helpful. Allergy triggers can be identified based on certain blood values. 

Further examination options

If the standard tests do not clearly confirm asthma, an X-ray may be helpful. It is used to rule out other lung diseases. 

A blood gas analysis also gives information on the gas exchange in the lungs: it shows if the delivery of oxygen and the expulsion of carbon dioxide via the lungs is working properly. A sputum test is a rare and more complex test. Here the coughed up mucus is tested for evidence of certain white blood cells.

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