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Testing for Asthma

Asthma is a disease of the lungs in which the airways become blocked or narrowed causing breathing difficulty. This chronic disease affects over 20 million Americans. Asthma is commonly divided into “allergic asthma” and “non-allergic asthma,” and there is still much research that needs to be done to fully understand how to prevent, treat and cure asthma. But, with proper management, people can live healthy and active lives.

  • Allergens Add-Up to Symptoms
  • Create an Allergy Portrait
  • Allergens thresholdsWhat to Expect From Your Doctor
  • Tools and Resources

Understanding the underlying triggers of your asthma – allergic or non-allergic – can give you a head start on better management. Knowing what triggers your asthma can help your identify the right kinds of asthma medications or even avoid unnecessary medications. We created public service announcements and this Web page, www.TestingForAsthma.org, to help you learn more and get started.

Allergens Add-Up to Symptoms

The first step is a proper and comprehensive asthma diagnosis, which includes allergy testing. Testing for allergies is important since more than 60% of asthma is “allergic asthma.” Everyone’s allergy profile is unique and requires individualized treatment.

By identifying your allergic triggers, your doctor can develop a focused, comprehensive allergy and asthma management plan for you.

Most people with allergies are sensitive to more than one allergen. Allergy testing is the only way to identify a patient’s individual allergies.

Reducing exposure to allergens can help reduce symptoms and reduce the need for medicines.

Sensitivity to some allergens can change with age. Patients with asthma who were tested as children may benefit from repeat testing as an adult. If the allergic triggers have changed, a different management strategy may provide better symptom relief.

Strategies to reduce exposure to allergens can only be successful if you know your specific triggers. Indoor allergens may be easier to control than outdoor allergens. In order to get the best symptom relief, you must identify all triggers that contribute to yoursymptoms. The chart below shows that  overall symptoms may decrease if active steps are taken to control exposure to indoor allergens. You can’t know which allergens to avoid until you test.

Create an Allergy Portrait

Create your allergy portrait!If you have symptoms that linger or come back regularly such as coughing, wheezing, sneezing, stuffy nose or itchiness, create an allergy portrait to share and discuss with your doctor. Learn more about the advantages of an ImmunoCAP test and to create your allergy portrait by clicking on the "allergy portrait" link here!

What to Expect From Your Doctor for a Complete Asthma Assessment

Personal and medical history. Your doctor will ask questions to get a complete understanding of your symptoms and their possible causes. A personal or family history of allergies or eczema increases the possibility of asthma. Be ready to answer questions about your family medical history, what kinds of medicines you take, and your lifestyle at home, school, and work.

Overall physical examination. If your doctor suspects asthma, he/she will pay special attention to your ears, eyes, nose, throat, skin, chest and lungs during the physical examination. You may also need an X-ray of your lungs or sinuses.

Lung function tests. To confirm an asthma diagnosis, your doctor may conduct one or more breathing tests known as lung (pulmonary) function tests. These measure many aspects related to your breathing. Lung function tests are often done before and after inhaling a medication known as a bronchodilator, which opens your airways. If your doctor suspects you have exercise-induced asthma, he or she may have you take lung function tests before and after exercising to see if there's a measurable difference in your breathing. Your doctor may also prescribe a trial asthma medication to see if it improves your lung function and breathing.

Diagnostic tests to identify allergic triggers. Your doctor may also do a blood test, like the ImmunoCAP test, to help determine if your asthma symptoms might be due to a specific allergy, or to exclude a certain type of allergy. This type of testing helps to increase the precision of the asthma diagnosis and promotes the use of effective evidence-based medical care. (An allergy blood test is simple and easy: it’s ordered and reviewed in your doctor’s office; patients do not need to stop taking their allergy medications, it usually only requires a single blood sample; no risk of allergic reaction; and, it can be used for children as young as three months of age.) Another type of allergy testing is called skin prick testing. Your doctor may use common asthma triggers to try to provoke a mild reaction.

Tools and Resources

This educational page and PSA campaign was supported in part by Thermo Fisher Scientific and individual donors like you.

© Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
www.aafa.org 1-800-7-ASTHMA