How Is Asthma Diagnosed?

Asthma is a disease that requires a diagnosis by a healthcare professional and ongoing assessments and monitoring throughout your lifetime.

If you or your child experience symptoms such as wheezing, frequent cough, shortness of breath or chest tightness, it is important to see a healthcare provider to determine if the symptoms point to asthma.

To diagnose asthma, a doctor will evaluate these symptoms, ask for complete health history, conduct a physical exam and look at test results.

At the initial visit, your asthma care provider will determine your level of severity and create a treatment plan. At each follow-up visit, they will assess your asthma control and adjust your treatment plan as needed.

Health History

You will be asked for some medical history, which should include:

  • Family members with asthma
  • Allergies
  • Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to pollutants in your workplace

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Testing for Asthma

There are also several breathing tests your healthcare provider may perform. The most common lung function test is called spirometry. This lung function test uses a device called, a spirometer, to measure the amount and speed of the air you blow out. This helps your healthcare provider see how well your lungs are working.

Other tests could include allergy testing (blood or skin), a blood test to check for cells responsible for inflammation, exhaled nitric oxide or FeNo test, and challenge tests, such as methacholine. Other lung diseases may cause some of the same symptoms as asthma. If your doctor thinks you might have something else, they may order additional tests.

Breathing Problems During Exercise

If you have chest tightness, cough, wheeze or shortness of breath during exercise, your doctor may perform extra tests to see if you have a type of asthma called, exercise-induced asthma or exercise-induced bronchospasm. For some people, they will only have asthma symptoms during exercise. There are many benefits to exercise, so work with your doctor to find the best management steps and treatment options for you.

Diagnosing Asthma in Children

A child is more likely to have asthma if:

  • A parent has asthma
  • The child has allergies, including the allergic skin condition eczema
  • Exposed to tobacco smoke during pregnancy or throughout childhood
  • Exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollutants
  • The child wheezes with viral infection
  • The child is obese

To help your child's healthcare provider make a correct diagnosis, be prepared to provide information about family history of asthma or allergies, the child's overall behavior, breathing patterns and responses to foods or possible allergy triggers. Lung function tests are often used to make an asthma diagnosis, but they are very hard to do with young children. The doctor may use a 4- to 6-week trial of asthma medicines to see if they make a difference in your child's symptoms. 

Get more information for parents of children with asthma.

Discussing an Asthma Treatment Plan

If you are diagnosed with asthma, you and your doctor will discuss a treatment plan just for you, including the use of medicines. Make sure you know how and when to use these medications—ask your doctor, asthma educator or pharmacist.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: December 7, 2022

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