Pulmonary Function Testing Laboratory 

Types of Pulmonary Function Tests Performed

The Division performs a full range of pulmonary function tests, depending on a child’s needs and medical condition. These tests can include:

Spirometry

In this test, soft clips are placed on the child’s nostrils to prevent air leakage from the nose. The child bites down on a mouthpiece and is instructed to breathe in deeply and blow out with as much force as possible several times. The child blows into a small plastic tube that is connected to a computer, which measures and records each effort.

Impulse Oscillometry

This test assesses airflow obstruction in children who are not able to perform a forced breathing test. Pulses of air make a vibrating sensation on the child’s cheeks and in the chest. The child wears soft nose clips and bites on a filtered mouthpiece, breathing normally for 20 to 30 seconds, takes a short break, and then repeats the test several times. This test can be performed on children as young as 3 years old.

Exercise Pulmonary Function Testing

This test monitors lung function following exercise, or to see if the airway is “hyper-responsive.” Baseline testing is performed, and then the child is asked to undergo some physical activity (walk or jog on a treadmill) or is monitored while inhaling a specific medication to see if the airway reacts. Staff closely monitor the child during these studies, and provide treatment when needed.

Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test

Cardiopulmonary exercise test results are used to determine the cause of chest pain, evaluate fitness, heart function and the effectiveness of drug therapies. The cardiopulmonary exercise test measures how well the heart and lungs work while the child exercises. This test may be prescribed for a child who is experiencing shortness of breath, chest discomfort, low energy, reduced blood oxygen levels, or heart or lung problems.

Total Lung Capacity (TLC)

This test measures the total amount of air a patient’s lungs can hold. The measurement is performed in a body plethysmograph, a clear Plexiglas booth—also referred to as a “body box.” The child sits inside the booth and breathes into a tube in a manner similar to spirometry, and again the tube is attached to a computer that calculates the child’s lung volume.

Oxygen Saturation

This test measures the amount of oxygen being carried by the red blood cells. One method uses a device that shines a light through the nail bed of a finger and measures the amount of oxygen in the blood based on the way red blood cells carrying oxygen absorb and reflect light. Another method used is by drawing a small amount of blood from an artery and measuring the amount of oxygen directly in the blood.

Medication Evaluation

Following the initial lung testing, the pulmonologist may give the child medication (bronchodilators), and then repeat the lung function testing to evaluate the effectiveness of the medication. The PFT staff strive to ensure that children and their parents are at ease and comfortable during the testing. An exercise physiologist helps to administer and monitor the basic pulmonary function tests, working closely with pulmonologists and allergists.

Staff take every precaution to ensure the child’s safety at all times during testing. During the exercise pulmonary function test, for example, a physician is always present. Staff also instruct patients and their parents on asthma maintenance and prevention.

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