Asthma Management Handbook

Diagnosing asthma in adults


A clinical definition of asthma in adults

Asthma is defined clinically as the combination of variable respiratory symptoms (e.g. wheeze, shortness of breath, cough and chest tightness) and excessive variation in lung function.

See: A working definition of asthma

There is no single reliable test ('gold standard') and there are no standardised diagnostic criteria for asthma.

The diagnosis of asthma is based on:

  • history
  • physical examination
  • considering other diagnoses
  • documenting variable airflow limitation.

In some patients, observing a response to treatment may help confirm the diagnosis, but lack of response to bronchodilators or to inhaled corticosteroids does not rule out asthma.

  • The guidance in this section generally also applies to older adolescents.

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