About Spirometry

What is a spirometer?

Spirometers are a small, medical instrument with a mouthpiece used by medical professionals. A patient will take a deep breath and will quickly blow with force into the mouthpiece attached to the spirometer. The spirometer will then measure the air flow and produce a test result which is then analysed further by a medical specialist. They will check how the lungs are responding obstructively and restrictively, and this will help to diagnose any health problems relating to the lungs.

Who carries out a spirometry test?

A qualified medical professional will perform the test. This may be a nurse or doctor within a private clinic, a hospital or a trained occupational health specialist for a company. 

Why are spirometry tests needed?

By measuring the amount of air a patient breaths into a spirometer, the results will help diagnose a lung condition. Another reason someone may need a spirometry test would be if they are under consideration for surgery or a doctor may need it as part of several tests, even if it’s not directly related to the lungs, it may help to diagnose another condition. People who work in industries where they are exposed to fumes, chemicals and dust are also recommended for testing.

Which illnesses affecting the lungs could a spirometer help diagnose?

There are many health conditions that can affect the lungs. Some of these illnesses include asthma which is a condition where airways become swollen and narrow and leads to difficulty in breathing. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition which affects the lungs and the digestive system. Pulmonary fibrosis is a condition where the lungs become scarred. A spirometry test will help a qualified medical professional diagnose these types of illnesses.

Why are spirometry tests important within the workplace?

Spirometry screening may be carried out to comply with The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations in order to look out for the wellbeing of their employees. They are needed to detect any early damage to an employee’s lung function and are usually carried out by a trained occupational health specialist. There are many hazards within the workplace that require lung screening. An employee could be subjected to fume, dusts, paint spraying, metal plating processes, using dyes and many other chemicals that after frequent use, could affect their respiratory system. It is therefore vital that staff have the correct PPE and monitored closely if regularly exposed to these. 

Which respiratory illnesses can occur within the workplace?

Within the workplace, exposures that cause occupational lung diseases include (and not limited to) asbestos, silica dust/respirable crystalline silica (related to stone cutting) and ceramic fibre. Common work tasks including vehicle paint spraying, milling and baking, soldering, laboratory animal work, woodwork, epoxy resin fumes can lead to respiratory problems. For more information and resources related to COSHH within the workplace, please visit the Health and Safety Executive website

Do Amplivox offer any types of accredited training course in spirometry to support occupational health professionals?

Amplivox offer accredited spirometry courses which provide competency training in all aspects of occupational spirometry. There is a one-day Occupational Spirometry Foundation Level course which is designed for occupational health individuals who are new to spirometry. Amplivox also offer a one-and-a-half-day competency course intended for those who have experience. We also offer another one-day update course for those who need a refresher in spirometry. For more information, visit our spirometry course page 

What symptoms could a person experience if they were advised to have a spirometry test?

A spirometry test is particularly advised if a patient experiences a symptom that relates directly to the healthy functioning of their lungs. For instance, this could be a persistent ongoing cough, a chest infection, unexplained difficulty in breathing, an irritation or they are over 35 and a smoker. 

What happens during a spirometry test?

A spirometry test should take between half an hour and 90 minutes to conduct, it will depend on the patient and any current or new symptoms they are presenting. 
You will be asked to sit on a chair and a clip will be placed on your nose to stop air passing through the nasal passages during the spirometry test. The doctor or nurse will explain the test procedure and may ask for you to practice first, so you get an idea of what is expected. When ready, you will take a large breath in to fill your lungs with plenty of air, making them feel completely full. Then keeping your mouth tightly closed around the mouthpiece on the spirometer, breath forcibly out making sure all the air in your lungs is quickly exhaled. The doctor or nurse may ask you to repeat the test several times or within timed intervals (for instance, every 20 minutes). This may be needed to see if any medication taken for the test begins to work.

After the test is complete and if you are feeling well, you will be able to finish and return to your normal day as planned. 

How are spirometry test results diagnosed?

Results may take some time if they need to be looked at by another specialist. Test results may be compared to a normal result for someone of the patients same age, height and sex. This will help the specialist decided if the problem is obstructive or restrictive. The diagnosis could even be a combination of both. An obstructive airway would show that the patient’s ability to breath out is affected because the airways have narrowed. A restrictive airway means the lungs are not able to expand fully.

What can affect the results of a spirometry test?

If a person exercised rigorously or ate a large meal a few hours before the spirometry test, this could cause inaccurate results. Smoking cigarettes, consuming alcohol and taking certain medications within 24 hours before the test being conducted may also affect results. A qualified medical professional will always provide guidance for patients before the test.

Is a spirometry test safe?

A spirometry test is considered safe, though during the test and maybe for a short time after a person may feel dizzy or faint, this is the effect of the forced breaths into the spirometer. For this reason, there are some people who may need to check with a medical professional if a spirometry test is safe for them. 

People who have or recently experienced angina, have heart disease or problems with blood pressure would need to follow professional medical advice. A person who has recently been operated on should also seek advice, especially if the procedure was to the head, eyes, stomach or their chest. This is because during a spirometry test, pressure is increased in these areas of the body.

If you are experiencing any symptoms that you think are related to your lungs, please contact a medical professional.

If you are a UK resident, please visit NHS 111 online or contact your local GP for further medical help.