Spirometers And What They Can Diagnose

By Marissa Velazquez


Spirometers are used in doctor's offices to test lung capacity and to diagnose such issues as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and other breathing conditions. They are also used as a diagnostic tool for those who are being treated for lung conditions. The air that in inhaled and exhaled is measured on how fast it moves through the lungs.

When used on patients who currently have a lung condition, it can show the efficacy of medication that was prescribed and to monitor symptoms. Conditions such as asthma, COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema can be diagnosed with this test.

Before taking the test, patients are advised not to use any medications or inhalants for the most accurate readings. Large meals should be avoided in order to breath easier and loose clothing is recommended so that the patient will not be constricted in their breathing.

Before the test begins a soft clip will be placed on the nose to prevent air from escaping though it as well as a mouthpiece filter will be used to guard against contaminants. A deep breath will be taken and then exhaled as hard as is possible into the mouthpiece on the spirometer to test air flow. This can cause one to feel dizzy for a bit or have shortness of breath. One may be asked to repeat this three times to get an accurate reading.

Sometimes a person will be given inhaled medications after the first test to allow the lungs to open more. At least 15 minutes should pass before administering the second test. The tests will then be compared to see if there is an improvement in airflow. Overall the testing will take less than 15 minutes. The results will include a vital capacity (FVC) test to show the most amount of air that can be exhaled, and a forced expiratory volume (FEV-1) test to show how much air is exhaled in a second.

A spirometer test is used to diagnose and provide asthma management, detect respiratory disease for those who show symptoms of breathlessness, and to distinguish between respiratory conditions and cardiac disease. It can measure bronchial responsiveness or differentiate between an obstructive and a restrictive lung disease. It is used to assess the impairment from occupational asthma or identify risk from pulmonary barotrauma while scuba diving. It is also used for risk assessment before the administration of anesthesia or prior to cardiothoracic surgery. This test can measure the treatment of conditions that it detects and diagnose the dysfunction of vocal cords.

In order for this test to show accurate results, the patient needs to be cooperative. It can be used on children, but it is advised that they be at least 6 years of age or more. It is not a good test for those who are heavily sedated, have limited respiratory effort, are unconscious, or cannot understand the instructions.

Spirometers are an invaluable instrument for checking lung function while doing rigorous exercise, to check for hyper-responsiveness to the inhalation of either cold or dry air, for bronchial challenge testing, and when using medications such as methacholine or histamines.




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