A Mini Guide to Respiratory Screening

A Mini Guide to Respiratory Screening

Respiratory screening is a way of testing how well your lungs are functioning and diagnosing conditions that can reduce lung function, such as asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis and chronic bronchitis. It may also be used to check for occupation-related lung problems or to assess your lung function prior to major surgery.

The most common test used for respiratory screening is spirometry.

Spirometry testing

A device called a spirometer measures how much air you inhale, how much you exhale and how quickly you exhale. As well as being used to diagnose lung disease, spirometry is also effective at monitoring chronic lung conditions and checking whether medication is effectively keeping symptoms under control.

Before the test, you should avoid using inhalers or other medication for respiratory conditions. Wear loose comfortable clothing that won’t restrict your ability to take deep breaths.

During the test, which normally lasts 15-20 minutes, the doctor will ask you to breathe into a tube, which is attached to the spirometer.

  • A clip will be placed over your nose to keep your nostrils closed and you will need to keep your lips sealed around the tube so no air leaks out.
  • You will need to take a deep breath and breathe out as hard as you can for a few seconds.
  • The doctor will ask you to repeat the test several more times to make sure the results are consistent.
  • The highest value is taken as the test result.

In some cases, you may be given a bronchodilator, which contains medication that opens up your lungs. After waiting 15 minutes for the medication to take effect, you will be asked to repeat the test. The doctor can then compare the two sets of results to assess whether the bronchodilator improved your airflow.

What a spirometry test shows

Spirometry shows two essential measurements:

  • Forced vital capacity – this is the amount of air you can exhale after taking the deepest breath you can. If you FVC levels are low your breathing may be restricted.
  • Forced expiratory volume – this is the amount of air you can exhale in one second. It shows the severity of breathing problems – the lower the reading, the more significant the obstruction. You may then be given a peak flow meter to use at home, which will further measure the degree of obstruction.

Breathe, the lung association, describes spirometry as “the most reliable way to test your lungs for COPD and asthma”.

While spirometry is the most common respiratory screening test, there are others including:

  • Full lung function tests (including lung volumes and gas transfer studies)
  • Gas dilution and body plethysmography.
  • Respiratory muscle strength assessments and diaphragm screening.
  • Cardiopulmonary exercise testing which takes measurements during exercise.
  • Induced sputum sampling.
  • Exhaled Nitric Oxide monitoring.
  • Tests for sleep breathing disorders, including polysomnography.
  • Diffusing capacity which is performed as a single-breath test.
  • Blood gas analysis, which uses a probe attached to the finger or earlobe.
  • Respiratory muscle function measurement.
  • Right heart catheterisation.

Benefits of respiratory screening

Respiratory screening is an effective way for people who may be at risk of lung problems to:

  • Secure an earlier diagnosis.
  • Identify the type and extent of the problem.
  • Determine which treatment/s may be the most appropriate.
  • Monitor the impact of treatments and the progress of the disease.

Who should have respiratory screening?

It is important to undergo regular respiratory screening if you have an existing lung condition or if you are at risk of developing lung problems.

Talk to us for more details.

Expert help is available to help you to better understand, manage and improve symptoms related to your respiratory health.

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