Spirometry Q & A
Donald Mantz, MD
Alegent Health Elkhorn
1130 N. 204th Avenue
Elkhorn, NE 68022
QUESTION: What do you recommend for someone who has breathing problems such as shortness of breath, wheezing, or an unusual cough?
ANSWER: Spirometry is a painless screening test used to detect or follow lung conditions such as asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and other lung diseases. Lung diseases can be related to genetic conditions such as Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency or pulmonary fibrosis. Inhalant exposures such as tobacco use or second hand exposure are common causes, and lung disease can even be brought on by obesity. The lungs can be damaged by smoke exposure in a house fire, by breathing small fibers from asbestos and other forms of insulation, or by inhaling ammonia or other toxic fumes from paint, glue, gasoline, nail polish remover and cleaning solvents.
Spirometry is frequently used to sort out the cause of symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chronic cough. The test requires no preparation, but it is recommended not to smoke or eat a large meal before the test.
The test involves breathing out quickly and forcefully through a tube connected to a machine. The spirometry machine calculates multiple breathing functions such as the volume of air the lungs hold and the rate at which the air in the lungs is exhaled.
If you have a family history of lung disease, are a smoker, or have any concerns about your ability to breathe, spirometry is an extremely valuable screening tool to determine whether your lungs are healthy or impaired. Early intervention is vital to preventing lung damage and hopefully to improve function even after some lung capacity is lost.