Asthma warning: How to check whether you have asthma at home

Samia Longchambon says doctors thought her anxiety was asthma

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Asthma is a long-term condition that kills around three people every day in the UK, and to receive the adequate treatment you need to be officially diagnosed. You might have the typical asthma symptoms and have a hunch that you have the condition, but you won’t get the right medicines and receive proper monitoring if you don’t get reveals how to check whether YOU have asthma.

How to check whether you have asthma at home

The tell-tale signs of asthma are coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest, and feeling short of breath, but not everyone with asthma will get all of these symptoms.

Asthma symptoms come and go and they shouldn’t be ignored because the quicker you get diagnosed, the quicker you can get treated and deal with your symptoms.

You can’t diagnose yourself with asthma, however. It’s not as easy as spotting symptoms and assuming you have the condition.

You’ll need a GP or asthma nurse to confirm or rule out a diagnosis of asthma.

Asthma UK stresses the importance of booking a doctor’s appointment as soon as you experience worrying symptoms.

The medical professional will decide whether or not you have asthma by:

  • talking about your symptoms, what sets them off, and when you get them
  • asking if anyone else in the family has asthma
  • finding out if you, or anyone in your family, have other allergies, like hay fever
  • testing how your lungs are working
  • listening to your chest for any sounds of wheezing
  • prescribing asthma treatments to see if they make a difference
  • considering any other symptoms that might suggest something else

Your doctor will run some tests to confirm or rule out asthma, possibly including peak flow, spirometry and FeNO.

Spirometry is when you blow into a machine that measures how fast you can breathe out and how much air you can hold in your lungs, and then FeNO test is where you breathe into a machine that measures the level of nitric oxide (a sign of inflammation) in your breath.

The peak flow test (sometimes called your peak expiratory flow or PEF) is easier to do at home because the peak flow metre is an affordable handheld device that measures how fast you can breathe out after you’ve taken a full breath in.

This test will be a part of your diagnosis and if you are diagnosed, your GP or nurse should ask you to do a peak flow test at your annual asthma review.

You may also be asked to monitor your own peak flow at home regularly, as part of your asthma action plan and the results are kept in a peak flow diary (Asthma UK) to see if your peak flow varies, The British Lung Foundation site explains.

How to check whether you have asthma at home

It must be stressed that you cannot diagnose yourself with asthma and you’re better off doing a peak flow test with your GP as part of the regular diagnosis process.

However, if you’re keen to do the peak flow test at home then there’s no harm in buying a peak flow meter at the pharmacy or online and giving it a go.

The British Lung Foundation explains exactly how to do the test:

  • Take the biggest breath in that you can
  • Then, blow out as fast as you can, into a small, hand-held plastic tube called a peak flow meter
  • You don’t need to empty the lungs completely – just a short, sharp blow as if you’re blowing out a candle. The measurement taken is called your peak flow
  • Each time you check your peak flow, you should do three blows, with a short rest in between the blows. The best of the three is the one that should be recorded

How to analyse the results

Peak flow scores will vary depending on your age, your height and whether you’re a man or a woman.

The expected values are higher in younger people, taller people and men, and this variance is partly why it’s much better to do the test with your GP.

Peak expiratory flow (PEF) is measured in litres per minute, and normal adult peak flow scores range between around 400 and 700 litres per minute.
Scores in older women can be lower and still be normal, but the most important thing is whether your score is normal for you.

The BLF site explains: “Health care professionals will be looking to compare your scores over time, to see if your results are going up or down.

“Your peak flow reading may vary through the day and night. The amount of variation is important as well as the pattern.

“Keeping track of your peak flow can help you spot when your symptoms are getting worse and when you need to take your reliever inhaler or get medical help.”

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