How is bronchitis diagnosed?

How is bronchitis diagnosed?

At your consultation, your doctor will assess whether you have bronchitis or not by performing a physical exam. He or she will listen to your lungs, requesting that you breathe in and out, to see whether anything sounds unusual. This is usually where your doctor can pick up wheezing and other unusual breathing sounds.

Your doctor will also discuss your overall symptoms with you and generally ask specific questions about the kind of cough you are experiencing.

Typical questions may include:

  • Have you recently had a cold or the flu?
  • How long ago did your overall symptoms begin?
  • How long have you had the cough?
  • Have you noted any mucus coming up when you cough?
  • What colour is the mucus?
  • Have your symptoms been occasional or persistent?
  • Are you unable to function normally or do your symptoms disturb your sleep?
  • Are you a smoker? For how long have you smoked?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with and treated for pneumonia?
  • Have you had a vaccination for pneumonia? (See more on the pneumococcalpolysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) If so, when?
  • Are you aware of any other medical conditions you may have?
  • Are you currently taking any other medications or supplements? Do you take them regularly?
  • Are you exposed to any lung irritants at your place of work?

Your doctor may also do the following during your consultation:

  • Assess oxygen levels in your blood. Your doctor will use a sensor which is placed on your finger or toe.
  • Do a pulmonary function test. Your doctor will ask you to breathe into a spirometer device to test your lung function. This test measures how much air your lungs can hold. It also measures how promptly you can get air out of your lungs. This will likely be done if more serious respiratory conditions such as emphysema or asthma are suspected.
  • Request a chest X-ray. This test will be used to assess whether you have pneumonia or another illness which may be the root cause of your cough.
  • Request blood tests.  This is to assess oxygen levels in the blood or build-up of carbon dioxide (in severe cases, where the airway is so narrow that not enough carbon dioxide is expelled from the airways). A full blood count test can also give an indication if it is more likely that the cause is due to an infection or an allergic reaction (by means of the eosinophilia count in the blood).
  • Do a sputum test (testing the mucus). This is done to potentially rule out any other diseases or conditions caused by bacteria. For example, Pertussis or ‘whooping cough’ can lead to violent coughing and difficulty breathing. Sputum can also be tested for signs of possible allergies.
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