Asthma can be a tough diagnosis. When your doctor is on the case, he or she will take into consideration the pattern and severity of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, or breathing difficulties; family history; and the result of lab and lung function tests. However, a doctor will also look for other subtle, physical signs of asthma. They will look in a patients nose, listen to his or her heart, and check out how he or she breathes (including what it sounds like using a stethoscope).

Doctors also look for retractions, a type of breathing pattern that suggests a child is struggling to inhale. Children with asthma may try to use the muscles in the neck, chest, and abdomen to draw a breath. This can cause a “sucking in” of the skin just below the rib cage, between the ribs, or above the collarbone (in the most severe cases).