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New test diagnoses asthma with more accuracy

November 2, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Asthma, a chronic respiratory disease, is obvious in some people. But for others, the symptoms aren't always as clear. Some patients suffer a long time, while doctors struggle to figure out their problem. But now a new test is helping undiagnosed asthmatics get the help they need.

A spirometer tests the amount of air coming out of your lungs and how fast it comes out to diagnose asthma. Unlike a spirometer, an exhaled nitric oxide test machine measures the nitric oxide in your breath.

The chemical is naturally produced in our bodies.

Cleveland Clinic Pulmonary Doctor Sumita Khatri says nitric oxide (NO) levels can go up as lung inflammation increases.

"It becomes sort of direct evidence that your airway's inflamed," said Khatri.

Khatri says the NO test helps her diagnose tough asthma cases that the spirometer can't detect.

"I use it in patients with severe asthma where I feel like, well, is it severe because they're not taking their medications?" said Khatri.

The device gives results in 90 seconds. Below 50 parts per billion is the normal range. Above 50, asthma is likely.

Doctor Khatri says the NO test is also a great tool to personalize medicine. After asthma is diagnosed a patient can take the test again to check their NO levels. Then doctors can adjust their medication as needed.

Khatri says some asthma patients have normal nitric oxide levels so the test doesn't work in all cases.

BACKGROUND: Over 24 million people experience the effects of asthma, in which asthma causes their airways to swell and narrow. The effects of severe asthma can interfere with people's daily activities. Although it cannot be cured, it can still be controlled. The first step to finding the right treatment is by having an accurate diagnosis. With the NO Asthma Breath test, levels of nitric oxide are measured by just a few strong exhales.

SYMPTOMS: Signs and symptoms caused by asthma can include shortness of breath, an audible wheezing or whistling sound while breathing, and also chest tightness or pain.

CAUSES: The causes of asthma can either be environmental or genetic factors. Asthma can be due to airborne allergens, respiratory infections, cold air and even certain medications

ABOUT THE BREATH TEST: Nitric oxide is already produced by the body, but too much can be a sign of swollen airways which is a sign of asthma. Therefore, the NO Asthma Breath test can detect if there are high levels of nitric oxide. This differs from the spirometer, in which it is only a simple breathing test that only measures how fast one can blow air out of their lungs helping to determine airway obstruction. The NO Asthma Breath test is more accurate, helping to diagnose those difficult cases of asthma.

APPLICATION: For the test, the patient will be seated while the doctor puts in the mouthpiece that is attached with a tube that leads to an electronic measurement device. Then, the patient will be asked to exhale air at a steady pace, often times while watching a computer monitor that registers how much the patient is breathing out. The test takes about five minutes for the device to register the nitric oxide levels. Patients are asked to avoid the use of an asthma inhaler, eating and drinking, exercising and the use of tobacco, toothpaste or mouthwash, two hours before taking the test.

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