Spirometers are used to assess how well the lungs work due to contaminants that we breath, how medications effect us, progression of diseases, and why we have shortness of breath. This medical device measures the flow of respiration in the lungs. The amount of air is recorded while the patient inhales and exhales over a set period of time allowing the condition of the patient’s lung to be determined.
Based on a patient’s sex, ethnicity, height, and age normal results can be determined. Values below 80 percent are considered to be abnormal, but the range can vary when using different labs. Nose clips are worn and the patient is asked to breathe through a mouthpiece. This forced and fast breathing can sometimes cause a temporary shortness of breath or lightheadedness.
An abnormal result can indicate a lung or chest disease. Diseases such as asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and infections can cause the lungs to take longer to empty and they can contain too much air. These are called obstructive lung disorders. Some diseases can cause the lungs to be scarred and become smaller so that they do not transfer oxygen into the blood and they contain too little air. Illnesses that contribute to this are being extremely overweight, sarcoidosis and scleroderma, lung cancer, and fibrosis of the lungs.
The risk is minimal in taking this test for most patients. For those people who have certain lung diseases there is an occasional risk of a lung collapsing. Those who have heart disease or a recent heart attack should avoid taking this test.
To get the optimal results cooperation is required. The seal around the mouth needs to be tight or the spirometer will give poor results that will be hard to interpret. It is advised not to smoke 4 to 6 hours before taking the test or to eat a heavy meal. Those who use bronchodilators or inhaler medication will get specific instructions.
Nitrogen or helium gases are also used to measure lung volume. The gas is breathed through a tube for a specific amount of time. Tracer gas is used in diffusion measurements and requires that one breathe of this harmless gas is taken for a specified amount of time and then measured as the patient exhales. The difference in the amount breathed in versus breathed out is measured to check for the movement of oxygen flowing into the bloodstream.
Physicians use this method routinely as part of annual physicals to alert them of any conditions their patients may have and to properly treat them. With minimal discomfort to the patient, this quick and non-invasive method takes but a few minutes and provides an accurate account of how well the lungs function.
Since the ancient Greeks used the first spirometers in 129 A. D. By creating a primitive bladder method to measure the capacity in a boy’s lungs to today’s methods developed in 1974, this device is an accurate way to measure the lung volume and to assist in the early detection of disease and the monitoring of medications.
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