How Is Asthma Diagnosed? Doctors Answer Your Asthma Questions

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Do you know how asthma is diagnosed? Asthma is a disorder in which your airways constrict and swell, causing excess mucus to be produced. Because of this, you may experience wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing while you try to breathe.

Asthma may just be a nuisance to some individuals. However, for others, it is a severe issue that severely limits their quality of life and even puts their lives in danger due to asthma attacks.

Let’s dive into some of the most common questions about asthma.

Is asthma a genetic disease?

It’s not clear what exactly causes this complicated illness, but studies have implicated both hereditary and environmental factors.

It’s more common for a child to have asthma if both of their parents also have the condition. In fact, there is a 25 percent probability that a child will have asthma if one parent does. This risk increases to 50 percent if both parents have it.

Twin studies underline the importance of genetics by showing that those having an asthmatic close relative are more likely to get the ailment themselves. The chance of both twins developing asthma is greater in identical twins than in nonidentical twins. However, the probability is just 75 percent rather than 100 percent, suggesting that external factors have a role.

Maybe you’re wondering, is asthma a disability? Yes, it is considered a disability.

A woman having an asthma attack that is worse at night

How is asthma diagnosed?

A thorough medical history, a physical exam, your symptoms, and your general health and test findings all play a role in establishing a diagnosis of asthma.

Spirometry, challenge testing, exhaled nitric oxide testing, and pediatric lung function testing are just a few of the methods your doctor may use to examine your lung function.

There are a number of respiratory tests that your doctor could carry out as well.

Spirometry is the most widely used test of lung function. A spirometer measures how much and how quickly you exhale air to test your lung function.

Exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) testing and challenge tests with substances like methacholine are two more examples of tests your doctor may use to diagnose asthma. Blood or skin allergy testing is another option. Some people with asthma may also have symptoms from other lung disorders.

Can asthma cause a fever?

Asthma, bronchitis, and asthmatic bronchitis all have similar symptoms. How asthma is treated depends on these potential signs and symptoms:

  • Feelings of constriction in the chest
  • Wheezing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Mild fever

People with asthma are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the common cold, which may trigger symptoms like wheezing and chest tightness. In young children, cold and flu viruses are typical triggers for asthma attacks.

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Common cold and flu remedies may not alleviate asthma symptoms. Furthermore, asthma symptoms brought on by a respiratory illness might last for days, if not weeks.

There is no guaranteed method to prevent yourself or your child from catching a cold or the flu. But can asthma kill you? Yes, it can kill you if left untreated. A healthy lifestyle and proper treatment are both important.

Why is asthma worse at night?

Many people with asthma notice that their symptoms are worse at night. In rare cases, asthma symptoms only appear at night. Children with asthma, in particular, often cough throughout the night.

Although there is no hard evidence to support any one theory about why asthma worsens at night, there are many possibilities.

  • The constriction of airways during sleep. Natural airway constriction occurs during sleep. The cycles of sleep and wakefulness are governed by your circadian rhythm. Relating to fluctuations in hormone levels, your circadian rhythm also influences how you breathe.
  • Nighttime asthma triggers. Asthma triggers may be more likely to manifest at night or while you’re sleeping. These may include dust mites or other allergens that might be living on your sheets and pillowcases.
  • Gravity. Asthma is thought to be more severe at night because of the added weight on your chest and increased force of gravity on your lungs. If you’re resting on your back, gravity pulls down on your chest and lungs, which may make it harder to breathe.

People with asthma may have worse symptoms at night if it’s harder for them to breathe at that time.

Is asthma curable?

Although there is currently no cure for asthma, its symptoms may be managed to the point where they are hardly noticeable.

Some medical professionals postulate that there are distinct forms of asthma, each with its own root causes. The fact that each individual reacts differently to asthma symptoms suggests that there may be as many causes as there are types of asthma therapy.

An inhaler as one of the ways how asthma is treated

The goals of asthma therapy include long-term management and short-term symptom alleviation. Asthma treatments consist of the following:

  • Inhalers
  • Nebulizers
  • Biologics
  • Oral medications

Can asthma go away on its own?

Treatment and remission are two separate things. The main objectives of therapy for asthma are typically to reduce attacks and manage symptoms. However, achieving remission goes above and beyond those targets.

When signs and symptoms lessen or go away completely for a year or more, this is called remission. Asthma remission might take one of two forms:

  • If your symptoms have gone away, then you have had symptomatic remission.
  • When the underlying ailment no longer manifests as a clinical sign or symptom, we say that it is in total or full remission.

Remission is achieved when symptoms are under control or management and no longer manifest, either with or without medication.

The root cause of asthma is not addressed by symptomatic remission. Therefore, a relapse may occur at any moment.

When the underlying cause of symptoms is resolved, total or full remission is possible.

It’s possible that your lung and airway function may return to normal, but even if the symptoms go away, you might not yet have beaten the condition. Does that mean asthma is an autoimmune disease? No, it does not.

Asthma presently has no known cure. Remission may remain for a while, perhaps months or even years, but it usually comes back, and the symptoms return.

Which doctor should I go to for asthma?

Different kinds of medical professionals may assist with the diagnosis and management of your asthma. The doctor you pick may depend on your age, health, and the severity of your asthma. Maintaining regular medical visits might be helpful in keeping asthma under control.

Family practice physicians or internists

If you experience symptoms that may be related to asthma but have not been officially diagnosed, a family practitioner or internist should be your initial point of contact.

This is because they will be in a better position to see the warning signals, get you started on the road to recovery, and know when to recommend you to a specialist. Family doctors and other primary care physicians, like internists, can usually handle asthmatic patients.

Immunologists and allergists

Allergists and immunologists are medical professionals who focus on the study and treatment of immune system disorders, including asthma and allergies. Allergists have extensive training in the field of allergy and immunology and are thus able to recognize the signs and symptoms of allergic reactions and asthma.

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A pulmonologist is a doctor who focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of lung and respiratory ailments, including asthma and other breathing disorders.

A pulmonologist has more specific training in dealing with the lungs and respiratory system than a general practitioner does, so they will be able to do more in-depth testing as necessary and provide a more thorough diagnosis. A pulmonologist might specialize in treating either adult or pediatric patients.


The first step for parents of children with asthma is to take them to a pediatrician (a doctor who specializes in treating children). Many family doctors also treat children. In addition to their primary care responsibilities, pediatricians are qualified to perform diagnostic tests, provide a preliminary diagnosis, and suggest possible treatments for their young patients.

Respiratory therapists

Asthma and other respiratory illnesses are treated by respiratory therapists. The treatment and prevention of asthmatic episodes rely heavily on the expertise of these specialists. When an emergency arises, they can provide quick treatment.

Professionals trained in respiratory therapy may aid in regaining regular breathing and functioning as part of pulmonary rehabilitation. A respiratory therapist, for instance, can do things like:

  • Assist patients in recovering lung function by guiding them via breathing treatments and exercises
  • Ensure you have your ventilator set up and functioning correctly by checking the oxygen levels
  • Perform medical diagnosis
  • Conduct physiotherapy for the chest to help clear mucus from the lungs

So, now you can select which doctor for asthma to go to.

Final thoughts

Asthma is an inflammatory lung disease that restricts airflow. It has varying manifestations and degrees of severity in both adults and children.

Asthma may be treated with a variety of drugs. Bronchodilators are often used to treat asthma, and they may be used either temporarily to relieve an asthma attack or permanently to control symptoms.

Asthma flare-ups may be mitigated by making certain lifestyle adjustments like modifying your diet, taking up an exercise routine, or finding other ways to deal with stress. You should consult a medical professional to determine the severity of your asthma and the best way to treat it.

March 17, 2023