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Spirometers And What They Can Diagnose

By Marissa Velazquez
Spirometers are a very useful tool for a doctor to diagnose breathing conditions such as chronic obstructive disease (COPD) and lung capacity in general for those who present symptoms of concern. They are a great diagnostic tool for those who are currently under treatment for lung conditions to see if the treatment is effective. It measures the flow of air going in and out of the lungs and how fast it is moving.

If a doctor suspects symptoms are caused by such conditions as pulmonary fibrosis, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, COPD, or asthma, a test may be ordered. For those who have been diagnosed with one of these conditions, this test can be used to see how effective medication is working and to make sure symptoms are under control.

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.

When taking the test a soft clip will be placed on the nostrils to keep them closed and filtered mouthpieces may be used to prevent the spread of germs. The patient will then take a deep breath and breathe out as hard as possible for a few seconds into a tube that is attached to the spirometer. Dizziness or shortness of breath may be felt shortly after doing this. The test may need to be repeated up to three times to get consistent and accurate readings.

Sometimes inhaled medications will be used after the first test to open the lungs, a 15 minute break is advised before administering the next test. The tests can then be compared to see if the administered medication has improved the flow of air through the lungs. The tests typically take less than 15 minutes in total to administer. Measurements of the most amount of airflow exhaled, called forced vital capacity (FVC), as well as how much air is exhaled in a second, referred to as forced expiratory volume (FEV-1), are recorded.

This test is often used to detect respiratory disease in patients who exhibit symptoms of shortness of breath, to diagnose and manage asthma, and to differentiate between cardiac disease and respiratory conditions. It is used to measure the efficacy of treatment in conditions previously detected, to diagnose vocal cord dysfunction, identify the risk of pulmonary barotrauma in scuba divers, access the damage from occupational asthma, differentiate between restrictive and obstructive lung disease, and to measure bronchial responsiveness.

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 can check for the effects of medication usage such as histamine or a methacholine agents, check the hyper-responsiveness to either inhalation of dry or cold air, or provide bronchial challenge testing. Some other lung tests that can be performed are a plethysmography or nitrogen washout.

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Spirometers And What They Can Diagnose

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