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Do I Have Asthma?

How is asthma diagnosed? Is it another condition instead?

To see if it is asthma, your doctor or asthma specialist has to do a couple of things. First, he or she needs to find out more about your symptoms, as well as ask about your medical and family history. Next, other possible or similar conditions need to be ruled out.

Making the diagnosis

Some questions your doctor may ask in order to make an accurate diagnosis are:

  • Do you have a history of breathing or respiratory problems?
  • Do you have a family history of asthma, other lung conditions, allergies, or allergy-related eczema?
  • Can you describe the symptoms? What do they feel like? When and how often do you have them?

The doctor may also perform a physical examination and conduct some tests, such as breathing test (lung function test), peak expiratory flow test and allergy test.

Conditions similar to or associated with asthma

There are other medical conditions that can cause similar symptoms as asthma, or occur together with asthma. Some of these include:

  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) with emphysema and chronic bronchitis
  • Heartburn caused by GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
  • Allergic conditions like eczema or allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
  • Sinusitis (sinus infection)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

COPD is a lung disease caused by damage to the lungs over many years. It usually affects older people and gets worse over time. Like asthma, COPD makes it hard to breathe.

Someone with COPD has symptoms of emphysema, where the lungs cannot stretch as much and result in shortage of breath, as well as symptoms of chronic bronchitis, which is when the lungs’ airways get inflamed and blocked by excessive mucus, reducing airflow. Some people might have or develop both asthma and COPD, also called Asthma-COPD overlap syndrome.

Heartburn caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Heartburn, which can be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is caused by stomach acid backing up into your esophagus or sometimes into your throat. If you have GERD, lying down can make your heartburn and your asthma symptoms worse. If you are having nighttime asthma symptoms, try not to eat too close to bedtime, and ask your healthcare provider about GERD. Treating GERD may help to improve asthma symptoms in people who have both conditions.

Allergic conditions like eczema or allergic rhinitis (hay fever)

Asthma is more common in people with a history or family history of allergic conditions such as eczema or hay fever. If you have or used to have itchiness or rashes due to eczema, or if your child does, let your doctor know.

Sinusitis (sinus infection)

This is when the tissues lining the sinuses swell or become inflamed, causing symptoms like a runny, stuffy nose. Sinusitis often coexists with asthma, and those with both conditions tend to get more severe asthma symptoms. Treating sinusitis might help with asthma.

Asthma Toolbox

Asthma Control Test

This quick 5-question test indicates your level of asthma control.  

Asthma Action Plan

This is an important guide your doctor can prepare for you to help you stay ahead of asthma at all times.

References: 

  1. Global Strategy for Asthma Management and Prevention. Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) 2015. Available at: http://ginasthma.org/gina-report-global-strategy-for-asthma-management-and-prevention/. Accessed 5 April 2016.
  2. Tests for asthma. Asthma UK website. Available at: https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/diagnosis/tests/ Accessed 5 April 2016.
  3. So You Have Asthma. A guide for patients and their families. NIH publication No. 13-5248, Originally printed 2007. Revised March 2013.
  4. Related conditions. American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology website. Available at: http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/related-conditions. Accessed 5 April 2016.
  5. Sinusitis and Asthma. American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Available at: https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/allergies/sinusitis.aspx. Accessed 5 April 2016. 
  6. What is COPD? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd. Accessed 5 April 2016.
  7. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology website. Available at: https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/related-conditions/gastroesophageal-reflux-disease.aspx. Accessed 5 April 2016.

SG/AST/0005/15a Certified 26/04/16.