A Breath Of Fresh Air: How Lung Function Tests Can Diagnose Breathing Issues

  • Pulmonology
  • Lifestyle - Pulmonology
  • May 5, 2023

Lung function tests can diagnose breathing problems by measuring the air that goes into the lungs and how well the lungs pass oxygen.

Smarter Tools For Better Breathing

Using the lungs to breathe is a natural process that can become something to be concerned about when done incorrectly. Lung function tests, also known as pulmonary function tests, can help a healthcare professional diagnose common breathing issues. When a traditional physical exam or diagnostic tools cannot provide an accurate diagnosis, lung function tests can help.

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What do breathing tests look for?

The most common way to diagnose breathing problems is by using a lung function test, which measures the amount of air a patient inhales and exhales, also known as the breathing volume. Breathing tests can also measure how well the lungs move air in and out and transfer oxygen into the bloodstream. Oxygen is essential for blood cell health and function.

Take a breath with spirometry

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and pulmonary fibrosis can be diagnosed with a spirometry test. Spirometry is the most common type of breathing test, which measures the amount of air inhaled and exhaled and how fast air can be blown out of the lungs. Spirometry may also be necessary to determine treatment success for a pulmonary issue.

Lung volume test

Another lung function test designed to help diagnose asthma, COPD, and interstitial lung diseases is a lung volume test, which is similar to spirometry but more accurate. During a lung volume test, the patient sits in a small booth with a clip on the nose. The doctor will ask the patient to take fast, shallow breaths, breathe in and out normally, blow out to empty the lungs, and take slow deep breaths. A lung volume test measures how much air the lungs can hold and the air that remains after exhaling.

Gas diffusion test

Patients may need to undergo a gas diffusion test before surgery to gauge the severity of a current illness, look for signs of lung damage, and diagnose the source of certain breathing issues. Lung diffusion tests check how well the lungs pass oxygen into the blood from the organ’s air sacs and pass carbon dioxide back into the lungs.

Exercise stress test

How well the lungs function during exercise can tell doctors a lot about a person’s lung health and function. A pulmonary exercise stress test uses electrodes to measure heart rate and a pulse oximeter to measure oxygen in the blood. Nose clips and a mouthpiece are used to measure breathing. During the test, a patient must walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike.

Preparing for a lung function test

Before undergoing a lung function test, patients must follow the doctor’s instructions to ensure breathing is as normal as possible. Patients should not eat a heavy meal, consume caffeine, smoke, or perform rigorous exercises before the procedure. Patients should also not wear dentures or tight-fitting clothing to the procedure.

Are there any risks?

Most pulmonary function tests are safe and involve no risk of serious complications. However, some people may experience discomfort, dizziness, and shortness of breath during the test. Generally, the test isn’t painful or likely to cause complications if performed properly by an experienced technician in a clean environment.

Breathe easy again

Lung function tests are one of the best ways to judge how well a patient’s lungs are functioning. Whether a patient has chronic breathing problems, asthma, or just wants to improve lung health, lung function tests can provide a clear picture of what is happening inside the body.

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