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Asthma: First Doctor Visit for Your Child

Your child has been coughing or wheezing, and you’re wondering whether it might be asthma. The first step toward finding out is scheduling a visit to your child’s health care provider. As you prepare for this visit, you may be wondering what questions the provider will ask or what tests and exams your child will need. Below are some brief descriptions. With this information, you and your child can go to that first visit knowing more about what to expect.

Medical history

Before starting the exam, your child’s health care provider will ask for background information. The more details you can give, the better. Be ready to talk about:

  • Your child’s symptoms, including when they first appeared, how often they occur, how bad they get, what things make them better, and what makes them worse

  • How the symptoms affect your child—for example, whether his or her symptoms limit physical activity, interfere with sleep, or cause absences from school

  • Any family history of asthma or allergies

Physical exam

The health care provider will listen to your child’s lungs with a stethoscope. Asthma often produces unique breathing sounds. In addition, the provider may look for signs of allergic disease, such as skin rashes, swelling inside the nose, and nasal discharge.

Spirometry testing

Spirometry is a test used to assess how well your child’s lungs are working. It is quick, easy, and painless. Here’s how it works:

  • Your child inhales deeply and then blows forcefully into a tube that is attached to a machine. The machine then calculates the amount of air the lungs can hold and the rate at which the air can be exhaled. The results are compared to those of healthy children of the same age, height, and racial group.

  • Next, your child inhales a dose of asthma medicine. Then he or she blows into the tube again. An increase in airflow suggests that asthma medicine may be helpful.

  • Finally, the provider might ask your child to perform some physical activity. The test can be repeated to see how the activity affects your child’s breathing and symptoms.

Although spirometry is a useful test, children younger than age 5 may have trouble carrying it out successfully.

Testing for allergies

Most children with asthma have allergies that make their breathing problems worse. At times, the health care provider may order tests to determine what substances your child is allergic to. Once this has been determined, you can take steps to limit your child’s exposure to those substances. Allergy testing may require a referral to a specialist.