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Blow it out: How spirometry test shows your lung capacity
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Blow it out: How spirometry test shows your lung capacity

For those with an acute pulmonary condition, during the course of treatment a spirometry test is done to analyze the lung capacity

A spirometry test is a breathing test that measures lung capacity and can also help medical experts assess lung health.

A 33-year-old man from Mumbai noticed tightness in his chest and constant coughing for over four months. He reached out to a specialist only when he experienced shortness of breath while walking, or with any physical activity. It was a spirometry test that helped his doctors in the detection of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

Dr Salil Bendre, Director of the Department, Centre for Chest & Respiratory Diseases, Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai who treated says that tests like spirometry help significantly in the early detection of a lung problem to initiate timely intervention and treatment. “In his case, through spirometry, it was found that the mild respiratory symptoms had significantly reduced his lung function. This led to an early diagnosis of COPD.”

A spirometry test helps to measure how much air an individual can take in and breath out of the lungs. It also measures how fast the person can blow out the air from a person’s lung.

When is a spirometry test needed?

Any person who displays symptoms of difficulty in breathing, tightness of chest, wheezing and persistent cough is recommended to undergo this non-invasive, breathing test. “Spirometry is a form of breathing test that measures a person’s lung capacity or lung volume,” says Dr Manisha Mendiratta, associate director & head – of pulmonology, Sarvodaya multi-specialty Hospital, Faridabad. “This test also comes under pulmonary function testing (PFT) which helps us to see if an individual has any obstructive or restrictive lung disease,” she explains.   

Conditions like Asthma, bronchiectasis and COPD are obstructive lung diseases that cause difficulty exhaling air from the lungs, whereas restrictive lung diseases, such as interstitial lung diseases, prevent the lungs from fully expanding. “Spirometry helps us detect whether the lung disease has deteriorated or if the condition can be cured,” Dr Mendiratta says.  

Spirometry indicates two major parameters, which are indicators of disease progression as well as response to treatment:

  1. Forced Vital Capacity (FVC), is the total volume of air that can be exhaled during a maximum effort. It should be ideally equal to or greater than 80%.
  2. Forced Expiratory Volume in One Second (FEV1), is the volume of air exhaled in the first second during forced exhalation after maximal inhalation. It should be equal to or greater than 70%

Any deviation in the values seen in FVC and FEV1 are a cause of concern indicating the need for treatment. 

How to prepare for a spirometry test? 

Prior to taking this test, Dr Bendre offers a few guidelines. It is generally recommended to avoid heavy meals and not wear tight clothing. The purpose of this is to ease diaphragm and lung expansion during a spirometry test. Before the test, one may also be instructed to avoid certain inhaling medications. “Medications can open up the airways, which can cause discrepancies during the test. The individual should also avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, and exercising vigorously for a few hours before the test,” Dr Bendre added. Besides, it is important to discuss any recent respiratory infections or medications with the treating pulmonologist.

Before performing the test, Dr Mendiratta stresses that there are certain contraindications that should be considered. “It is not possible to perform the spirometry test if the person has recently suffered from a heart condition, used an inhaler or nebulizer within six to 12 hours before the test,” she says.

Respiratory assessment and results 

The results of the spirometry test will help the medical expert assess a person’s respiratory health and determine why they are experiencing breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing, and other respiratory symptoms. She explains that the spirometry test will be conducted throughout the treatment. “We start the treatment and repeat the spirometry test in intervals of one month and three months to check if there is significant improvement. The test results indicate whether we are on the right track or if there is any deterioration. The latter suggests the need for change in the therapy,” Dr Mendiratta.

Besides, there are portable devices called incentive spirometers that can be used at home to improve lung health. “When on treatment, we sometimes suggest buying an incentive spirometer, a device which allows you to perform the test at home, wherein they can use it to see their lung volume and overall improvement,” she says. The device also helps in the expansion and strengthening of the lungs and aids in clearing mucus formation. It can be recalled, incentive spirometer was used as a part of treatment protocols for people with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 due to its theoretical benefits.

While using the incentive spirometer one must maintain a log of the results each time they take the test. “If they see that there is a significant fall in the lung volumes on a daily basis, then approach the medical expert to analyze the course of the treatment,” said Dr Mendiratta.

Takeaways 

  • A spirometry test is a breathing test that measures lung capacity and can also help medical experts assess lung health.
  • The test is advised for those having symptoms of obstructive or restrictive lung diseases
  • The test is non-invasive and certain guidelines must be followed before taking the test such as avoiding heavy meals, consuming alcohol, smoking, medication and tight-fitting clothes, which can hamper the results.
  • On assessing the results of the test, the condition will be identified and the person will be prescribed the required treatments.

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