Diagnosing Asthma in Children

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Asthma tests are one part of a complete diagnosis that pinpoints your child’s condition and guides treatment. A thorough exam and diagnostic tests give the specialists at Norton Children’s Pulmonology, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, the information they need to develop a customized treatment plan.

The first step to diagnosing asthma in children is collecting a medical history. Our specialists will ask about your child’s symptoms, when they occur and whether anything in particular seems to trigger them.

Additional questions can include:

  • Is the child exposed to tobacco smoke, chemical fumes, furry pets or birds, or other airborne irritants?
  • Do any relatives have asthma or allergies?
  • Does the child have any other chronic health conditions?

A physical exam of your child may include the upper airways, listening to their breathing with a stethoscope and looking at the skin for allergic symptoms such as hives.

Diagnostic tests will provide detail to help develop a precise diagnosis. Asthma tests aren’t accurate in children under age 5. Your asthma care team will rely on symptoms and a physical exam to determine initial treatments.

Diagnostic Asthma Tests

  • Spirometry: This is a pulmonary function test that shows how well the lungs are working. It measures how much air a person breathes out and how fast they can do so. Our respiratory therapists make this test into a game, as children strive to blow out candles on a computer to generate results.
  • Impulse oscillometry (IOS): This simple asthma test requires only normal breathing through a mouthpiece or mask. Due to its simplicity, this test can be used in children as young as age 3. It is not as widely available as spirometry. Norton Children’s is a national leader in the use of IOS.
  • Exhaled nitric oxide test: This simple, noninvasive test measures an important type of airway inflammation.

Additional tests may be ordered to rule out other causes of your child’s symptoms or identify conditions affecting them in addition to asthma. These can include an assessment for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), as well as allergy skin tests and blood tests that can identify allergens that are causing your child’s symptoms or making their asthma worse.

Asthma symptoms in kids

Wheezing — a whistling sound especially when exhaling — is the classic sign of an attack or flare-up. Other common signs are coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Asthma attack triggers can vary from child to child.

Asthma attacks can rapidly become severe, sometimes leading to life-threatening symptoms. Understanding your child’s symptoms and how to treat them can save their life. Addressing the causes of your child’s asthma attacks is the first step in controlling their condition.

Our specialists also will ask about the environment around your child and discuss how you can remove causes of asthma attacks.

Why Choose Norton Children’s for Your Child’s Pulmonology Care

  • Our physicians are members of the American College of Chest Physicians, American Board of Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Thoracic Society.
  • Our cystic fibrosis (CF) program is accredited as a Cystic Fibrosis Care Center by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, offering “the best care, treatments and support for those with cystic fibrosis.” It is the only accredited pediatric CF program in Louisville or Southern Indiana.
  • Your child may benefit from access to new and innovative treatments being studied through our extensive clinical research program, including our membership in the Cystic Fibrosis Therapeutics Development Network.
  • The Childhood Asthma Care and Education Center at Norton Children’s Hospital offers comprehensive, state-of-the-art therapeutic strategies for all stages of asthma.
  • We offer a multidisciplinary Severe Asthma Clinic dedicated to caring for children with the most difficult-to-treat cases of asthma.
  • Our certified asthma educator and other providers offer individualized education on asthma, proper monitoring, effective use of medications and correct use of inhalers.
  • The Norton Children’s Hospital laboratory has one of the region’s only pulmonary function testing and diagnostics systems.

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