Normal breathing involves taking a full breath using the diaphragm as opposed to shallow breathing that draws minimum air to the lungs. Shallow breathing is also known as chest breathing since the air is pulled in to the chest using the intercostal muscles. This can cause shortness of breath which makes it difficult for you to inhale oxygen as required by your body.
You may experience mild breathlessness if you have a cold or after a long run in the park. These are temporary problems which usually disappear in a short time. However, breathing problems can also be a sign of various diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, heart disease, pneumonia, sinuses, bronchitis and so on.
Symptoms shown by these diseases can be similar which makes it difficult to establish the right diagnosis. Health conditions such as GERD and airflow obstruction can also mimic asthma. So distinguishing one from the other may require a few tests and more importantly, some patience from your side.
What is asthma?
To understand how the disease is diagnosed requires knowing what the disease is all about. In asthma, the airways get inflamed that makes it harder for the air to move in and out of your lungs. A person suffering from an asthma attack will generally take short and rapid breaths to compensate for the reduced oxygen supply to the lungs. Along with breathing problems, asthma can also cause coughing, wheezing and chest tightness amongst other symptoms.
How is asthma diagnosed?
Breathing problems are the primary indicators of asthma, though many times they can be mistakenly construed as symptoms of other diseases too. Establishing the correct diagnosis involves ruling out other diseases, checking symptoms, conducting tests and so on. Since asthma is a respiratory condition, most procedures aim to assess the lung condition of the patient.
- The doctor will enquire about the family history, allergies and medical history.
- He/she will analyse your symptoms, their frequency and severity.
- He/she may also perform a physical examination using a stethoscope to check the breathing pattern.
- You may be required to obtain an X-ray of your lungs to diagnose diseases other than asthma.
- You may also be required to undergo lung function tests that measure your lung function. Tests such as spirometry and peak airflow have proved to be highly effective in diagnosing asthma. The mechanism involves taking tests before and after inhaling bronchodilators to see if there is any improvement in the airflow. If there is significant improvement, you probably have asthma.
Usually, breathing problems along with other symptoms are collectively evaluated to confirm asthma. If your doctor thinks that there is a possibility of any other disease, then he/she may conduct allergy tests, acid reflux tests or any other specialised tests to rule out other diseases.
Once diagnosed with asthma, the doctor will lay out an asthma treatment plan and prescribe suitable medication to help you control the disease. Remember that with proper care and medication, an asthmatic patient too can lead a normal and healthy life.