Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways that can cause tremendous discomfort to a patient. Early diagnosis of Asthma in young children can help control and manage the disease well.
Nearly 35% of the children in India are prone to some or the other respiratory disorder.* Most children in their early years have bouts of cough and wheezing, which are the symptoms of asthma. But that does not mean they all are going to develop asthma.
Timely Diagnosis Can Save Much Trouble
In case of recurring wheezing and shortness of breath, it would be prudent to take your child to a doctor specialising in pulmonary diseases to check for asthma. Early diagnosis and proper treatment can help prevent disturbances to a child’s daily routine. Proper management will allow a child carry out all his activities such as sleep, play, sports and school freely.
“I used to have severe breathing problems, especially climbing up and down stairs. I used to think that I was unfit. However, through a spirometry test, the doctors were able to understand that my lungs weren’t congested and the airways were blocked causing the breathing problems and it was later diagnosed as bronchial asthma,” said Prutha Lonikar, 24 years, a professional writer.
Tests for Diagnosis of Asthma
When a patient suspected of having Asthma reports to the clinic, he will have to undergo a test to check his lung function. Lung function tests (also called pulmonary function tests) check how well your lungs work. The tests determine how much air your lungs can hold, how quickly air can move in and out of your lungs. They also measure how well your lungs can carry out exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide from your blood.
Spirometry is the lung function test that is chosen for the diagnosis of asthma. It is by far the most objective and reliable method for the diagnosis and monitoring of Asthma. For this test, the patient has to breathe into a mouthpiece attached to a recording device called a spirometer. The information collected by the spirometer may be printed out on a chart called a spirogram. The common lung function values measured by spirometry are:
- Forced vital capacity (FVC): The amount of air you can exhale with force after you inhale as deeply as possible.
- Forced expiratory volume (FEV): The amount of air you can exhale with force in one breath.
The readings will be lower if the airways are swollen and constricted because of asthma. Spirometry can be carried out before and after taking medication to test the efficacy of the medication prescribed.
Peak Flow Meter
Peak flow meter measures how well the lungs push out air. A peak flow meter is a handheld plastic tube with a mouthpiece on one end, which you breathe into. It measures the force of air in litres per minute and gives a reading on a built-in numbered scale.
Peak flow meters are less accurate than spirometry, but can be used to regularly test your lung function at home. A peak flow meter can help you monitor your asthma over a period of time, even daily. Daily monitoring helps identify what aggravates the asthma and whether or not the patient is responding to the medication. Monitoring with the peak flow monitor helps identify inflammation and swelling in the airways even before the symptoms of asthma are seen. This helps a patient take to take the necessary measures to avoid an asthma attack.
“These tests form the basis of the prognosis, which then helps to further assess the lung function and prescribe the right medicine and form a proper diagnosis. This diagnosis can further help in making the patient understand the extent of the problem,” said Dr. Deep Parekh, Paediatrician, Dhanvantri Hospital, Mumbai.
Symptom-Free is not Asthma-Free
One of the biggest challenges to the management of asthma is discontinuation of the medication once the symptoms have subsided. Often this may be to save the cost of medication. One needs to understand that being symptom free does not mean one is free of the disease. It could flare up anytime. So any such step must be taken only on the recommendation of the doctor.