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Diagnosing Asthma

Diagnosing asthma and children and young persons can be difficult. It is important to seek advice from your GP if you suspect you or your child has asthma. This is because some other conditions can also mimic asthma, so it is important that a healthcare professional excludes these first.

Writing down the symptoms your child experiences and when and having a list of your questions will help you prepare for your doctor's appointment. A video can be helpful if your child experiences any peculiar breathing sounds.

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Common Symptoms

Some common symptoms may be highly suggestive of asthma. This includes coughing, wheezing (a whistling sound when you breath), breathless and chest tightness or even chest pain. 

Coughing may be frequent through the day or even at night. In fact, children frequent coughing at night commonly have asthma or poorly controlled asthma. It may occur due to particular triggers, including playing or exerting yourself. Wheezing may occur on exertion, or particular triggers. It is critical that you discuss with your doctor if you think particular foods or medicines make you suddenly wheezy. Breathlessness may also occur during asthma exacerbations. Different triggers can also worsen this.  Some children find activity and sports can be limited by breathlessness and wheezing during activities.

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Asthma and "suspected or probable asthma"

If you have typical symptoms as above of asthma, your GP will support you to reach a diagnosis of asthma and provide you with a treatment plan. If it is not entirely clear, your doctor may say "suspected or probable asthma" and may trial some inhalers to see if it helps you. 

They may also refer you to our Paediatric Asthma service. It can be very helpful to keep a diary of what helps and worsens your symptoms.

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Putting it all together

Unfortunately, there is no one single test to diagnose asthma, so your doctor or specialist nurse will piece together the difficulties you have been having.

They may consider other tests if available such as medical devices for testing your breathing (e.g. peak flow test, FeNO test), a chest x-ray, or blood tests to identify triggers and exclude other conditions. 

No one size fits all, so your team will work together with you to help and support you.

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Often it can be difficult between asthma attacks and panic attacks, as both willm ake you feel worried, anxious, and panic.  Understanding your or your child's asthma symptoms can help you tell the difference.

Panic attacks are aften associated with extreme anxiety around the situation, and can be seen with no breathing difficulties too in other situations.  Panic attacks are more likely to be brought on by trigger "situations" and stressful situations.  Young people with panic attacks may experience other symptoms too such as feeling light-headed, tingling / numbness, tense muscles, sweating and overheating.  Often panic attacks are much shorter lasting 5-10 minutes only, whereas asthma attacks can last for hours.  Helping young people to breath slowly and provinding reassurance can be very helpful, and helping them to better understand their symptoms and how their body feels can help reduce symptoms of panic attacks. 

You can view more information put together by our Psychology team on our website too in the Anxiety and Breathing Problems section, click here

Please see your GP for additional help with panic attacks and anxiety, and consider referrals for pschology and counseling support.  This may even be available in school.