Your Child's Asthma: First Office Visit

Is your child coughing or wheezing? It might be asthma. The first step to finding out is scheduling a visit with your child’s healthcare provider. As you get ready for this visit, you may wonder what questions the provider will ask or what tests and exams your child will need. The information below can help you and your child know what to expect.

Health history

Before starting the exam, your child’s healthcare 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 happen, how bad they get, what makes them better, and what makes them worse

  • How the symptoms affect your child. For example, if the symptoms limit physical activity, interfere with sleep, happen at night, or cause your child to miss school.

  • Any family history of asthma or allergies

Physical exam

The healthcare provider will listen to your child’s lungs with a stethoscope. Asthma often produces unique breathing sounds, such as wheezing. But if your child is not currently having symptoms, the lungs may sound normal. This does not mean your child does not have asthma. If your child has never wheezed before, your provider may want to do a chest X-ray of the lungs. Your child's healthcare provider will also decide if medicines or an Asthma Action Plan is needed.

Your child's provider usually looks for signs of allergies, such as skin rashes, swelling inside the nose, and nasal discharge. The provider may discuss triggers or allergens that may cause your child to have symptoms. Your child may be referred to a healthcare provider who specializes in allergies and asthma.

Spirometry testing

Spirometry is a quick and easy test used to assess how well your child’s lungs are working. Spirometry is sometimes performed by primary care providers. However, many times, only asthma specialists will perform this test. It's a very important part of diagnosing asthma. Here’s how it works:

  • Your child breathes in deeply and then blows forcefully into a tube that is attached to the spirometer. The spirometer calculates the amount of air the lungs can hold and how fast it is breathed out.

  • Next, your child breathes in a dose of asthma medicine. Then they wait for the medicine to work. Then, they blow into the tube again. An increase in airflow suggests that asthma medicine may be helpful.

  • In some cases, the provider might ask your child to do some physical activity. The test is repeated to see how the activity affects your child’s breathing and symptoms.

Spirometry is a useful test. But children younger than age 5 may not be able to do the test correctly. They may need other tests. Or the provider may prescribe medicine for your child to try and see if symptoms improve.

Allergy testing

Most children with asthma have allergies that make their breathing problems worse. Your child's healthcare provider may order tests to check for allergies. If allergies are found, you can take steps to limit your child’s exposure to those allergens. To get allergy testing, your child may need a referral to a specialist.

Other conditions

Other health problems can cause symptoms similar to asthma. These conditions include acid reflux, nasal polyps, allergies, pneumonia, or another type of infection. If your child's healthcare provider thinks your child has a different condition, they may do other tests.