Breathing Tests: What You Need to Know


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Understanding Breathing Tests: A Comprehensive Overview

Breathing tests, or pulmonary function tests (PFTs), play a crucial role in assessing lung function. These tests provide insights into:

- Lung capacity – How much air the lungs can hold

- Airflow – How fast air can be exhaled

- Oxygen exchange – How well the lungs transfer oxygen into the bloodstream

When Breathing Tests are Needed

Breathing tests are ordered to:

- Diagnose respiratory symptoms like chronic cough, wheezing, or shortness of breath

- Monitor the severity or progression of lung conditions such as asthma, COPD, and pulmonary fibrosis

- Evaluate the efficacy of inhaler medications

- Assess lung function before surgery

Preparing for Breathing Tests

Your healthcare provider will provide specific instructions for test preparation. If you use inhaler medication, they might ask you to hold off on using it before the test.

Types of Breathing Tests

1. Spirometry: The most common test, it involves forcefully exhaling air into a spirometer. This measures lung capacity and airflow. Your provider might administer medication before the test to assess its impact on your lung function.

2. Lung Volume Measurement: This test evaluates the amount of air in your lungs. It may involve breathing through a tube while sitting inside a special chamber.

3. Diffusing Capacity: This test gauges how efficiently oxygen is transferred from your lungs to your blood. You'll inhale a specific gas and then exhale into a tube.

4. Six-Minute Walk Test: This assesses how far you can walk in 6 minutes while monitoring blood oxygen levels. A sensor on your finger tracks your oxygen levels during the walk.

5. Arterial Blood Gas: This test measures oxygen levels in your blood. Blood is drawn from your wrist artery and sent to a lab for analysis.

Considerations and Downsides

- Breathing forcefully during tests like spirometry might cause coughing, lightheadedness, or chest pressure.

- The specific downsides vary depending on the test.

Breathing Tests for Children

- Most children aged 6 and older can follow directions for breathing tests.

- For children under 5, test procedures are adjusted, and experienced professionals conduct the tests.

Breathing tests are invaluable tools in diagnosing and managing lung conditions, offering insights into lung health and helping healthcare providers tailor treatment plans.