Most people are surprised and perhaps somewhat wary when their doctor or employer asks that they complete pulmonary function testing. However, these straightforward tests can help to diagnose a breathing problem or may help your employer discover where they can make improvements to their health and safety practices. Here are the basics that you need to know about pulmonary function tests.
Pulmonary Function Tells Doctors How Well Your Lungs Work
Your doctor or employer may suggest pulmonary function tests for you if you are having problems with your lungs or with breathing. These tests can also be conducted as part of a physical. Sometimes, doctors run these tests more than once over time to see how well a prescribed treatment is working. A pulmonary function test can measure several factors, such as lung capacity and how quickly you breathe (spirometry), how well your lungs exchange gases (gas diffusion), and how much air you can hold in your lungs (lung plethysmography). The nature of the test and any further testing will be determined by the doctor or medical professional performing the tests.
The most commonly used pulmonary function test is called spirometry. Patients are seated in front of a high-tech machine and then fitted with a mouthpiece. They are asked to breathe into the mouthpiece for several minutes. Two sets of results are usually achieved through spirometry. The forced vital capacity, or FVC, shows the maximum amount of air you are capable of exhaling after a deep breath. The forced expiratory volume, or FEV-1, tells the doctor how much air you are able to exhale in one second.
When Is Pulmonary Function Testing Required?
Occasionally, an employer will ask a worker to undergo pulmonary function testing to gauge whether or not their lung function is being affected by conditions at the workplace. Doctors may similarly ask for testing if a patient has asthma, COPD, a respiratory infection, lung fibrosis or other condition that makes breathing difficult. OSHA may require these tests if you are exposed to known, harmful substances like asbestos or cotton dust on a regular basis. Usually, these tests are administered on at least an annual basis.