Asthma Childhood Diagnosing Child

Diagnosing children with asthma is important to their long-term health. Asthma is a chronic lung disorder that causes swelling and inflammation in the airways. Symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing, and the disease is a common childhood ailment. Left untreated, asthma symptoms can be life-threatening, so proper treatment is essential.

Risk Factors for Asthma

The cause of asthma is unknown, but certain risk factors increase a child’s chance of developing the disease. Doctors will ask about these risk factors while diagnosing children with asthma.

A child may be at risk of developing asthma if:

  • cold temperatures trigger coughing or wheezing
  • either parent has asthma or allergies
  • exercising triggers coughing or wheezing
  • someone smokes in the child’s house
  • they have had exposure to pollutants/airborne chemicals
  • they have a history of respiratory problems
  • they have allergic conjunctivitis or allergic rhinitis
  • they have allergies to dust mites, cockroaches or pet dander
  • they have allergies to pollen, molds or fungi
  • they have eczema or atopic dermatitis
  • they are obese.

When to See the Doctor

Asthma affects breathing. A severe asthma attack is a medical emergency that, left untreated, can prove fatal. If a child has difficulty breathing he or she should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Diagnosing Children with Asthma

Fortunately, diagnosing children with asthma is not particularly difficult. The first thing the doctor is likely to do is take a medical history of your child. The history is likely to include the following:

  • any allergies
  • current medications
  • exposure to asthma risk factors
  • factors that seem to trigger symptoms
  • family history
  • list of symptoms.

Diagnosing children with asthma is much smoother if you know the doctor will want this information. Jot it down in note form before going to the appointment. That way you’re not trying to remember everything in the stressful environment of the doctor’s office.

Once the medical history is complete, the doctor is likely to listen to your child’s lungs with a stethoscope for signs of asthma, including wheezing. The doctor will also look for evidence of allergies, nasal inflammation and signs the child is having difficulty breathing, such as hunched-up shoulders and use of the muscles between the ribs when inhaling or exhaling.

Tests Used to Diagnose Asthma

The presence of constant wheezing, along with a medical history, may be enough to make the doctor suspect asthma. To confirm his suspicions, the doctor may order a peak expiratory flow, a spirometry test or a challenge test.

  • Peak Expiratory Flow Test: A peak expiratory flow meter is commonly used when diagnosing children with asthma. The child exhales as much as possible into the meter, which measures how well the child can clear his or her lungs.
  • Spirometry Tests: A spirometry test measures how well the lungs work. When diagnosing children with asthma, doctors often have the child use the spirometry machine before and after administrating asthma medication. If spirometry indicates the medication improved breathing, there is a good chance the child has asthma. Spirometry may not be an option for very small children, who have difficulty holding the equipment while they breathe.
  • Challenge Tests: A challenge test exposes the patient to a possible asthma trigger to observe symptoms. For instance, if exercise induces asthma symptoms, the patient may work out on a treadmill. Challenge tests are not often used when diagnosing children with asthma. More often challenge tests are administered to adults.

Reactive Airway Disease

Diagnosing children with asthma may result in a diagnosis of reactive airway disease, especially in very young children. Reactive airway disease describes coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath without making an asthma diagnosis.

Reactive airway disease is used to indicate the possibility of asthma without making a firm diagnosis. Wheezing may indicate asthma in children, but young children may wheeze when breathing for a number of reasons. As a result, diagnosing children with asthma isn’t considered accurate until after age six.

Conditions that Mimic Asthma

While diagnosing children with asthma often doesn’t reveal the presence of other diseases, there are conditions that mimic asthma symptoms. The child’s doctor may order X-rays or other tests if he believes symptoms are caused by any of the following:

  • airway obstructions
  • airway tumors
  • blood clots in the lung
  • bronchitis
  • congestive heart failure
  • lower respiratory tract viral infection
  • other lung disease
  • pneumonia
  • vocal cord dysfunction.

Resources (2005). How is asthma diagnosed? Retrieved March 20, 2009, from the Health Cares Web site:

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2008). Asthma: Steps in diagnosis. Retrieved March 20, 2009, from the Mayo Clinic Web site:

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2008). Reactive airway disease: Is it asthma? Retrieved March 21, 2009, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: