Your child has been coughing or wheezing, and you’re wondering whether it might be asthma. The first step toward finding out is scheduling a visit with your child’s health care provider. As you prepare for this visit, you may be wondering what questions the provider will ask or what tests and exams your child will need. With the information below, you and your child can go to that first visit knowing more about what to expect.
Before starting the exam, your child’s health care provider will ask for background information. The more details you can give, the better. Be ready to talk about:
Your child’s symptoms, including when they first appeared, how often they occur, how bad they get, what makes them better, and what makes them worse
How the symptoms affect your child—for example, whether his or her symptoms limit physical activity, interfere with sleep, occur at night, or cause absences from school
Any family history of asthma or allergies
The health care provider will listen to your child’s lungs with a stethoscope. Asthma often produces unique breathing sounds, such as wheezing, although if your child is not currently having symptoms, the lungs may sound normal. This does not necessarily mean your child does not have asthma. In addition, the provider may look for signs of allergies, such as skin rashes, swelling inside the nose, and nasal discharge. If your child has never wheezed before, your provider may want to do a chest X-ray of the lungs.
Spirometry is a quick and easy test used to assess how well your child’s lungs are working. It's a very important part of diagnosing asthma. Here’s how it works:
Your child inhales deeply and then blows forcefully into a tube that is attached to the spirometer. The spirometer calculates the amount of air the lungs can hold and how fast it is exhaled.
Next, your child inhales a dose of asthma medicine. Then he or she blows into the tube again. An increase in airflow suggests that asthma medicine may be helpful.
Finally, the provider might ask your child to perform some physical activity. The test is repeated to see how the activity affects your child’s breathing and symptoms.
Although spirometry is a useful test, it may not work children younger than age 5.
Most children with asthma have allergies that make their breathing problems worse. Your child's health care provider may order tests to check for allergies. If allergies are found, you can take steps to limit your child’s exposure to those allergens. Allergy testing may require a referral to a specialist.