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Breathing Problems: Causes, Tests, and Treatments

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.

How Are Breathing Problems Treated?

Substances that cause breathing problem are known as triggers. Avoidance of triggers is the No. 1 way to control allergies and asthma. As an example, wearing a dust mask when doing housework or yard work may cut down on your exposure to allergy triggers. Avoiding a furry pet, washing bed linens at least once a week, staying indoors during peak pollen times, and changing the filter on your air conditioner frequently may also help prevent serious problems if you have allergies.  

Medications are also important in treating breathing problems. Allergy drugs such as antihistamines and decongestants may make it easier to breathe for some people with allergies. These medications can be delivered orally or through nasal sprays.

In addition, inhaled steroids may give relief to some with chronic allergies and sinusitis. These drugs work to reduce inflammation in the airways. Allergy shots are yet another way to reduce sensitivity to allergens and may give relief to some breathing problems.

Asthma is treated with inhaled or oral drugs that help open airways and reduce the primary inflammation in the airways. These asthma medications help ease or even prevent airway obstruction and excessive mucus production. People with asthma must control inflammation in order to keep the airways open and reduce sensitivity to asthma triggers. Asthma triggers may include:

  • Viral infections (cold or flu)
  • Pollen
  • Pet dander
  • Mold spores
  • Dust mites
  • Cockroaches
  • Irritating pollutants in the air
  • Fragrances and fumes
  • Smoke
  • Food allergies

Even exercise can be an asthma trigger in some people.

Can Medical Intervention Help Me Manage Breathing Problems?

So often, people seek medical intervention only after they have had breathing problems for weeks to months. Often by the time the medications are started, damage has occurred that takes more time to heal.

An accurate diagnosis is important before you can treat and prevent breathing problems. Each of us is different. The specific medication and treatment program that works for a family member or friend may not be the correct one for your problem. In fact, it is difficult to really understand your respiratory problem without a clear and thorough understanding of how breathing works.

If you have symptoms of one or more of the common breathing problems discussed in this article, see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis. Write down any questions you have and seek answers. Prevention and treatment measures can dramatically help relieve and possibly end the breathing problems you experience.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 15, 2014
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