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Medical History for Asthma - Topic Overview

Asthma usually is diagnosed based on the history of symptoms, a physical exam, lung function tests, and laboratory tests. The medical history is especially important if you or your child does not have symptoms at the time of the visit.

Your doctor will probably ask whether you or your child:

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Lung Function Tests for Asthma

To diagnose asthma, your doctor will review your asthma symptoms, your medical and family history, and may perform lung function tests (also called pulmonary function tests). Your doctor will be interested in any breathing problems you might have had, as well as a family history of asthma or other lung conditions, allergies, or a skin disease called eczema. It is important that you describe your symptoms of asthma in detail (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness), including when...

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  • Has sudden severe episodes or recurrent episodes of coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath, and how frequently this occurs.
  • Has colds that "go to the chest" or take more than 10 days to get over.
  • Coughs, wheezes, or has shortness of breath during a particular season or time of the year.
  • Coughs, wheezes, or has shortness of breath in certain places (such as a certain room in the house) or when exposed to certain things, such as animals, cigarette smoke, or perfumes.
  • Coughs, wheezes, or has shortness of breath when exposed to cold air or smoke.
  • Uses any medicines that aid breathing, and how often the medicine is taken.

In the past 4 weeks, have you or your child had coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath:

  • In the early morning?
  • After moderate exercise or other physical activity?
  • After laughter, tickling, or excitement?
  • That has awakened you at night?

Your doctor will want to know whether you or your child has:

  • A previous history of an allergy or sinusitis, or a family history of asthma or allergies.
  • A history of heartburn.
  • A history of mucus-producing tissues that project into the nose (nasal polyps) in yourself or a close relative.
  • Ever smoked cigarettes (teens and adults) or if anyone in your home smokes.
  • A hobby of woodworking or photography. Asthma symptoms may be caused by exposure to substances such as wood resins and other chemicals that are used in these hobbies.

If occupational asthma is suspected in teens or adults, your doctor may ask the following questions and ask you to begin keeping a work diary giving detailed information about exposures and symptoms.

  • What kind of work do you do? What do you do at work? Be as specific as possible.
  • Do you think your breathing or other medical problems are related to your work?
  • Do your symptoms improve when you are not at work, such as over weekends or on vacations?
  • Are you now or have you ever been exposed to dust, fumes, or gases?
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