Wheezing: Tests and Diagnosis

How do providers at Children’s Hospital Colorado make a diagnosis?

Wheezing is a symptom of many respiratory conditions. If your child wheezes often or for an extended period of time after being sick, you should see your child’s health care provider.

Depending on your child’s medical history and physical exam, the provider may order tests to determine the cause of your child’s wheezing. Wheezing can be a symptom of asthma, so providers may recommend spirometry, a common test used to diagnose asthma.

During spirometry, the child takes as deep a breath and blows out the air as fast as possible. A child-friendly computer program and respiratory therapist coach the child during the test. This is a painless test that children find fun to do. It can provide valuable information for parents and the health care provider.

In general, cooperative children starting at age 4 can perform spirometry. The results show the total volume of air breathed out, and if the flow of air from the large and small airways is normal. If the results are low, the child may be given an inhaled medication called “albuterol” to help expand the airways, and the spirometry is repeated 15 minutes later to see if the results improve. This test is used to diagnose asthma as well as other lung conditions.

Other tests that may be used to determine the cause of your child’s wheezing include: x-rays of the chest or neck,  fluoroscopy (an x-ray that shows movement and allows providers to see how the child’s trachea looks while breathing in and out), CT scans (a test that combines a lot of x-ray images to show an entire section of the body in detail), pulmonary function tests (tests that show how much air a child can breathe in and out) and bronchoscopy (a procedure in which a doctor uses a tiny camera to see the inside of a child’s airways).