If you suspect you have asthma, your doctor will get a personal and family history as well as examine you. Some doctors may then prescribe an asthma medication (usually an inhaler), ask you to take it for a few weeks, and then schedule a return visit to see if the medication reduced your respiratory symptoms. The most common test to confirm asthma is a spirometry test.
Many primary care doctors now have spirometers in their office. If the results show that you have airway obstruction which is improved after using a bronchodilator (usually containing albuterol), the probability that the respiratory symptoms were due to asthma is very high. However, spirometry is often normal in people with asthma during days they don't have symptoms.
The doctor can then order another breathing test called a methacholine challenge test which determines the degree of twitchiness of the airways. There are many other tests your doctor may order including allergy skin tests (recommended at least once for almost all patients with asthma), allergy blood tests (eosinophil count or IgE levels), and perhaps a chest X-ray.
What Are the Treatments for Asthma?
Asthma is usually a lifelong (chronic) disease. If you have asthma, see a doctor regularly. Treatment for asthma requires several steps:
Taking medications daily that control inflammation and prevent chronic symptoms (long-term-control drugs)
Ready availability of drugs such as albuterol to treat asthma attacks when they occur
Your Asthma Action Plan
Following a diagnosis of asthma, work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan. Ask your doctor for the resulting written asthma action plan, which includes what you should do when you fall from the green zone of good control into the yellow or red zones. You can download one from WebMD, print it, and ask your doctor to complete it.
Monitoring lung function can improve the ability of some people with asthma to verify that their asthma control is worsening. Discuss the potential value of buying a $20 to $60 peak flow meter (such as the Personal Best) or pocket spirometer (such as the PiKo-1) with your doctor. You can add the readings to your asthma diary and use them as part of your asthma action plan. As with any medical condition, prevention is the best approach.