How to diagnose Asthma in children

It’s not easy to diagnose asthma in children under five years old, as there are many different reasons for wheezing and coughing. They may also find breathing tests difficult. 

A doctor will undertake a medical history and will ask parents about the child’s symptoms. This could include: 

  • Cough 
  • Wheeze 
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Chest pain or chest tightness 
  • The child’s behaviour 
  • Family history of asthma or allergies 

Read more information about diagnosing asthma.

To help arrive at an accurate diagnosis, your doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and what you noticed about them, including the timing, frequency and severity. They will ask about your child’s overall health and the presence and/or likelihood of asthma and allergies in the family. A doctor will check your child physically, called a physical examination. To determine a possible diagnosis, the doctor will connect all the pieces of information from this consultation and determine the most likely explanation, or diagnosis. 

Sometimes to assist with an asthma diagnosis, a “treatment trial” is proposed. This involves starting asthma treatment and assessing whether it has been effective. This is usually a very safe approach using medicines with few or no side effectsIt will potentially treat the symptoms and improve your child’s condition. 

For children older than five years, the doctor might ask you to perform a spirometry testThis might happen at the GP clinic or at a special spirometry laboratory.  A spirometry test is safe, simple and painless. Your child will blow into a mouthpiece as hard and as long as they can to measure how fast and how hard their lungs can breathe. They will need to do this several times but can rest as long as they need to in between. Most of the time they will be asked to take a reliever medicine in the middle of the testing. This will show what effect the medication has on their lungs. 

We talk about what to expect and how to prepare for spirometry testing here.