Have you ever experienced shortness of breath? Or episodes of wheezing or tightness in your chest? If so, chances are you may have asthma. This chronic inflammatory disease of the airways affects over 25 million people in America according to healthypeople.gov. What to do if you are one of those who suffers from this condition? Although there is no cure, understanding the causes and tests for asthma will help you find ways to control your illness.
What are the Common Symptoms?
While it is possible that no two individuals display the same signs, there are a few common ones that can indicate asthma:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
- Wheezing when exhaling
- Coughing or wheezing that worsens with a cold or the flu
The duration or number of episodes of these symptoms also vary from person to person. If you suffer from any of these warning signs, it is essential that you consult your physician for an asthma diagnosis. Because asthma can be controlled you need to know the causes and tests for asthma.
What are the Causes?
Unfortunately, experts have not found a single origin to this disorder. However, it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. With this in mind, exposure to the following irritants and substances listed by the Mayo Clinic can trigger asthmatic signs and symptoms:
- Airborne substances such as pollen, mold spores, pet dander, dust mites, and cockroach waste
- Respiratory infections
- Physical activity
- Cold air
- Air pollutants and irritants, including chemicals used in hairdressing, farming and manufacturing
- Medications including aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and beta blockers
- Sulfites and preservatives in food and beverages
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
In addition to these potential triggers, the Mayo Clinic further lists certain risk factors thought to increase the likelihood of one developing this respiratory ailment and need to be considered when discussing causes and tests for asthma. These factors include:
- Having a parent or sibling with asthma
- Having other allergic conditions, such as hay fever or atopic dermatitis
- Being a smoker
- Exposure to secondhand smoke
- Being overweight
- Exposure to pollution
If you or a loved one is exposed to any of the above substances or has risk factors, it is recommended that you talk over your concerns about the causes and tests for asthma with your physician.
What are Common Tests?
When seeking a diagnosis for your asthma symptoms, the doctor will review your family and medical history, in addition to performing several common tests such as:
- Chest and sinus x-rays
- Pulmonary function
The final assessment on the list, pulmonary function test, is vital to a correct diagnosis and treatment, as symptoms alone are not enough to generate accurate and measurable data. What is this analysis and how does it work?
Pulmonary Function Testing
Spirometry is the most common pulmonary or lung function test. Its purpose is to examine how well your lungs work. This quick, pain-free test is often used to diagnosis several lung diseases including asthma, COPD and cystic fibrosis. The spirometry exam shows how well you breathe in and out via a device called spirolyser spirometer.
How does it work? The physician or respiratory therapist will ask you to inhale and exhale into a mouthpiece attached to the spirolyser that will measure the amount and speed of air inhaled and exhaled. One test is the FVC or the Forced Vital Capacity test, which requires you to exhale and hard and as quickly as possible into the mouthpiece. A second test, the Slow Vital Capacity test involves you exhaling at a slower rate than the FVC. Although readings from these tests may vary depending on age, body size, gender, and ethnic background, the results will assist the doctor in determining an asthma diagnosis.
Please know that an untreated asthma condition has the potential to be lethal, so take note of any signs, symptoms or risk factors of asthma and discuss the causes and tests for asthma with your physician. Being under a physicians care will help ensure the proper treatment and control of this disease.