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Allergies or asthma?

/ Source: WebMD

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have a question about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Our experienced medical journalist Jennifer Warner took your questions about allergies and asthma to specialists. Here's what she found out.

I have allergies to the usual things that grow in the spring and fall. Fall is difficult and mold causes big problems. I usually get bronchitis every fall. This year it truly feels like I have asthma. How do I know the difference? I have wheezing and shortness of breath. What should my doctor be doing in treating this?

Seasonal recurrent bronchitis in a non-smoking adult is asthma until proven otherwise.

The reason that both doctors and patients are reluctant to make the diagnosis of asthma is that in the past asthma was sort of a depressing diagnosis. But of all the issues that can affect people in this manner, this is by far the most optimistic because we do well with this. Appropriate treatment can save this person disability and all sorts of complications.

Usually what happens when someone has bronchitis on a regular basis, they are treated with albuterol, and if they respond that serves as a diagnosis of asthma. Albuterol only works on brochospastic diseases and recurrent bronchospastic diseases are asthma until proven otherwise.

What the doctor needs to do is probably a lung function test, which involves blowing into a spirometer (a device that measures lung function), and then have the patient use albuterol. If they improve 10-12 percent after using albuterol, that is the definition of asthma.

Dr. Bob Lanier, past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and an allergist in private practice in Fort Worth, Texas. Lanier is also a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center.