New technology helps diagnose, manage asthma

Breath test can detect infl­ammation in lungs

New technology is helping doctors with the diagnosis and management of asthma. 

Doctors at Texas Regional Asthma & Allergy Center in San Antonio are now using fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) to help detect if a person is at high risk for an asthma attack.

During the spring months, allergic asthma cases will be on the rise.

The same allergens that cause inflammation in the sinuses can cause inflammation in the lungs. 

By testing nitric oxide levels, doctors can detect inflammation in the lungs to help diagnose asthma cases. 

"We have patients coming in with coughing and chest congestion never diagnosed with asthma and part of the assessment is looking to see if their nitric oxide is elevated, because is if it is elevated, we think more about asthma causing those triggers," said Dr. Joseph Diaz, a board-certified allergist and immunologist.

The simple breath test requires patients to blow into a device that measures exhaled nitric oxide levels.

The machine looks like a video game with a screen attached, showing a character in a hot air balloon. The patient blows into the device to make the balloon float.

The trick is to not blow to hard or to soft in order to keep it between the lines.

It only takes about 20 seconds to perform the task and the results are available within minutes. 

"It's a fairly simple, relatively cheap test that gives us important information," said Diaz.

The test can even detect problems before a patient has ever had an asthma attack.

For those already diagnosed, it can help keep asthma symptoms in check and make spring allergy season much more manageable.

There are only a few physicians in the country that offer the new technology.

Since it's just recently been introduced into asthma care, patients should be aware that some insurance companies still consider it experimental and wont' pay for the test.

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