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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Breathing Problems: Causes, Tests, and Treatments

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Which Tests Are Used to Diagnose Breathing Problems? continued...

Spirometry is a simple breathing test. It measures how much air you can blow out of your lungs and how fast you can blow it. This breathing test is used to determine the amount of airway obstruction. A methacholine challenge test may be performed to help establish a diagnosis of asthma. Your doctor will know which test is best for your situation.

In some cases, the doctor may take an X-ray to see the structures inside your chest, including the heart, lungs, and bones. A chest X-ray is a good test to diagnose pneumonia. It can't, though, identify most breathing problems by itself. For some people with breathing problems, a CT scan of the chest is needed. This scan looks for any problems in the lungs. A CT scan uses X-rays and a computer to create detailed images.

If you suffer with chronic sinusitis, your doctor may order a special sinus CT scan. This scan will be used to evaluate your sinuses. Once the problem is diagnosed, your doctor may prescribe effective treatment to help resolve the breathing difficulty.

Can Allergy Tests Determine the Cause of Breathing Problems?

Allergy tests may help your doctor identify the cause of your breathing problems. There are several types of allergy tests your doctor might use. One of them is the prick technique. In this test, the doctor first puts a tiny drop of allergen on your skin. Then the doctor makes a puncture with a needle directly in the drop of allergen extract. If you are allergic to the specific allergen, your body will react to it by turning red at the site. You may also experience itching and swelling at the site of the allergen placement.

Another type of skin test involves your doctor injecting the allergen extract directly under the skin using a syringe. Other allergy tests include:

  • allergy blood tests (called a RAST or radioallergosorbent test)
  • a challenge test, in which the doctor introduces tiny amounts of the suspected allergen by inhaled, oral, or other routes

These tests are used less frequently than the skin testing.

After performing allergy tests, your doctor may know what's triggering your breathing problems. Then the doctor will be able to treat your allergy symptoms more effectively.

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