The principles followed in asthma diagnosis and treatment remain standard. Medical history, physical examination, and tests are conducted to diagnose and evaluate the severity of asthma. Treatment aims to alleviate the symptoms and prevent further asthmatic attacks.
If you suffer from asthma, your doctor will conduct certain tests to diagnose it and find out the triggering causes.
The asthma tests are useful in older children and adults because they are not reliable in children less than 5 years of age. For younger children, your doctor will rely on the signs and symptoms described by you and his examination of the child.
It is easier to diagnose asthma in children 6 years and older than in preschoolers who present with frequent breathlessness.
Once diagnosed, the treatment consists of a short-term plan to control the symptoms and in addition, a long-term plan to prevent further asthma attacks.
Asthma is a common chronic medical ailment that makes your breathing difficult and laborious. This happens due to the narrowing of the airways in the lung caused by inflammation and extra production of the mucus by the hyperactive mucosal glands that line the airways.
It affects children and adults, men and women, and treatment is purely to give relief from symptoms. There is no absolute cure. However, with professional support and lifestyle discipline, you can obtain relief from symptoms and live a normal healthy life.
Your doctor will subject you to certain tests to diagnose your asthma and to find if you are allergic to certain trigger factors. The results of these asthma tests will give the doctor a good idea of the line of treatment he should adopt.
Taking of medical history
Your doctor will ask you questions about your general lifestyle and your symptoms.
- Whether you suffer from any health condition
- Are you taking any medication
- Do you smoke or drink alcohol
- Do you have any pets in the house
- Do you have any plants in the house or in the surroundings
- Does any of your family member suffer from asthma
- What work you do
- He will ask about your symptoms in detail
- He will ask you about any allergies you suffer from
Your doctor will conduct a physical examination.
- He will examine your skin for any allergic eruptions such as eczema or hives
- He will examine the shape of your chest and look for any changes such as an upward lift of the ribcage.
- He will apply the stethoscope to your chest to listen for any rhonchi, which occur due to narrowing of the airways
Tests for asthma
A Chest x-ray will show if any consolidation is present that may be causing breathing difficulty.
Lung function tests
Lung function tests are the main tests used for the diagnostic evaluation of asthma.
A specially trained respiratory technician conducts lung function tests with special devices that measure your lung function capacity. They are the most common tests done for asthma. They are of different types.
- Spirometry – when you take a deep breath and exhale into a hose attached to a device called a spirometer, it measures how fast you can breathe out (forced vital capacity or FVC) and how much air you can hold in your lungs (lung capacity). In lung asthma, your score will be below the prescribed normal limit.
- Peak flow test – In this test, you blow into a handheld plastic tubular device that measures how fast you can breathe out (forced expiratory volume or FEV). In lung asthma or other lung chronic diseases, your score will be lower.
- FeNO test or the exhaled nitric oxide test – you breathe into a plastic tube attached to a machine that measures the level of nitric oxide in your breath. A higher level than normal is a sign of inflammation in your airways.
Asthma attacks occur with a frequency, which depends on how often you are exposed to the allergen causing asthma attacks, your own body resistance, and pulmonary strength.
You cannot cure asthma permanently but it is possible to live a long healthy life with professional support and a disciplined lifestyle.
Treatment and management of asthma, therefore, consist of treatment of an acute asthmatic attack and simultaneously setting up a program for increasing your body resistance and pulmonary function to prevent or reduce asthma attacks.
- Broncho dilators: The doctor prescribes either an oral tablet for asthma or asthma inhalers, also called asthma pumps, to patients with an occasional attack. Asthma inhalers give immediate relief. They act by dilating the bronchi and bronchioles, thus giving freeway for air to flow.
- Corticosteroids: The doctor may in addition also prescribe an oral steroid tablet to the above in persistent cases of two or more attacks per week. They give relief by reducing the inflammation within the bronchi and bronchioles.
- Parenteral drugs. In more severe and persistent cases of asthma, the doctor may give bronchodilators and/or steroids by intramuscular or intravenous routes.
- Light exercises for asthma help to strengthen lung capacity. Make it an everyday routine. Avoid heavy exercises.
- Manage stress. Stress precipitates an attack. Learn to fight it with meditation and Pranayama (of Yoga).
- Avoid the allergen. Try and identify the triggering allergen and avoid it.
- Inhale lukewarm water steam, daily as required, which will loosen the mucus in the airways and clear them. It makes it easier to expectorate the loosened mucus.
- Yoga exercises specifically for bronchial asthma, such as breathing exercises will help tremendously. They build up the strength of the lungs and can even take you off your medicines for good. First, learn to do them correctly under expert guidance and then practice them every day. Surya namaskara, gomukhasan, and ushtrasana (yoga exercises) are helpful.
- Dry Climate: If you have a choice, and asthma attacks are making life hell, you should migrate from the coastal area to an area where the weather is dry and not humid. You will notice a marked reduction in the frequency of your asthma attacks.
How to prevent asthma?
- First and foremost, as suggested above, join a yoga class initially and learn to correctly do the exercises specifically meant for asthma, which the yoga master will prescribe to you. There should be no weekly offs for these exercises.
- If you are prone to asthma, by way of genetic trends and have the luxury of a choice, migrate to an area that has a dry climate. The humidity of a coastal area does increase the chances of bronchial asthma attacks.
- Since asthma in most cases is an autoimmune reaction, tips mentioned in this article “How to prevent Allergy”, will go a long way to help you prevent asthma attacks.