Routine Pulmonary Function Testing

Breathe easier with routine pulmonary function testing

Routine pulmonary function tests (PFTs) check how well you can breathe and measure how well your lungs are bringing oxygen to your body. Your doctor may suggest that you get pulmonary function tests to see if you have a lung disease, or to see how well treatments are working for a lung disease you already have. Using tests called spirometry and plethysmography (lung volume testing), routine pulmonary function testing measures:

  • How much air you can breathe in and out
  • How quickly you can fill and empty your lungs
  • How much air you breathe in and out when you’re breathing normally
  • How much air is in your lungs at different points during the breathing cycle
  • How much air your lungs can hold at maximum capacity

Routine pulmonary function tests can be a useful way to diagnose illnesses like asthma, chronic bronchitis, COPD or lung cancer.

Your results from these tests give your doctor an idea of how healthy your lungs are.

How does pulmonary function testing work?

For most of the test, you’ll sit in a small, glass booth. You’ll have a small clip on your nose, like one you might wear while swimming. You’ll place your mouth on a special mouthpiece that attaches to a machine that measures your breathing.

At first, you’ll breathe normally. Then the doctor or respiratory therapist doing the test will tell you what to do next. Part of the test involves breathing out as much as you can, and part of it involves breathing in as much as you can. You may need to inhale certain medicines to see if they make it easier or harder to breathe.

You’ll need to repeat the test a few times to make sure the results are accurate. You’ll have some waiting time between each test to catch your breath, but let the doctor or respiratory therapist know if you need a break.

If you’re having a hard time breathing, talk to your doctor to see if you might need pulmonary function tests.