It may be easy to dismiss a cough or shortness of breath as something related to a simple cold. However, these symptoms are also associated with asthma — a condition that narrows the airways in the lungs and causes difficulty breathing — and should be diagnosed by your doctor using spirometry.
Spirometry is a simple test in which you breathe out into a tube for several seconds. The test helps doctors diagnose asthma by measuring airflow in and out of your lungs. If you have symptoms that could indicate asthma, a spirometry test is important in ruling out other illnesses — such as a cold, bronchitis, pneumonia and even heart disease — with similar symptoms.
According to Dr. Matthew Messoline, a family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, an accurate asthma diagnosis using spirometry is essential because asthma treatment can be very different from treatment for other diseases.
“Without taking a spirometry test, you could be prescribed asthma medications unnecessarily, and the cause of your symptoms could go untreated,” says Dr. Messoline. “Likewise, if you have untreated asthma due to an improper diagnosis, you could have severe asthma attacks. Untreated or poorly managed asthma can also cause scarring in the lungs, which can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In addition, asthma medications are not as effective once the lungs are scarred.”
Dr. Messoline recommends a spirometry test for children age 5 or older, and adults of any age who have asthma-like symptoms. “Signs of asthma could include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing or tightness in your chest,” he says. “If the spirometry test indicates that you have asthma, your doctor should prescribe asthma medication.”
Dr. Messoline suggests a retest four to six weeks later to find out if your test results improve and the medication is working. “If your symptoms are being controlled properly, you should have a spirometry test at least once every year or every other year.”
Tips for managing asthma
Dr. Messoline offers the following five tips to help you control your asthma:
- If you have symptoms, ask your doctor for a spirometry test, which can sometimes be done right in your doctor’s office.
- Take your medicine as directed. If you’ve been prescribed an inhaled asthma medication that should be used daily, such as betamethasone or fluticasone, be sure you use it as directed to prevent an asthma attack. You may also need a short-acting inhaled medication such as albuterol to help relieve symptoms quickly.
- Avoid triggers. Allergies to dust, pollen, pet hair or other allergens can trigger asthma symptoms.
- Stay active. If your ability to exercise is affected by asthma, ask your doctor about taking a short-acting medication prior to exercising.
- Protect yourself from colds and flu — they can trigger asthma symptoms. Wash your hands often and get an annual flu shot.
At Sharp Rees-Stealy, we want to empower you to make well-informed choices about your treatment options. That’s why we’ve made it our priority to support our doctors in helping you make smart and effective decisions by participating in Choosing Wisely®.
Choosing Wisely, an initiative of the ABIM Foundation, educates patients and doctors on selecting the most effective treatment available and avoiding unproductive, costly procedures. Sharp Rees-Stealy is the only medical group in Southern California to participate in this national campaign.