Spirometry is also known as pulmonary function testing. It’s a painless, noninvasive test that evaluates and measures how easily air moves in and out of your lungs. It takes about 10 minutes to perform and provides immediate results that can help to detect lung disease.

Spirometry testing should be performed on patients who have shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing or chest pain. Spirometry is also performed to:

  • Assess the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions, such as bronchodilator therapy or steroid treatment management of congestive heart failure
  • Screen individuals at risk of having pulmonary diseases, such as smokers
  • Assess a patient’s health status before enrollment in strenuous physical activity programs


You’ll be asked to hold a plastic disposable spirometer sensor tube in your mouth. You may have a clip placed on your nose or be asked to pinch your nose closed. You’ll be asked to inhale as deeply as you can holding the sensor steady, then instructed to blow into the tube as hard and as fast as you can for six seconds.

The test may make you tired or short of breath. You can rest between repeated tests if you like. It’s important to have a closed seal around the mouthpiece and no air going through the nose to get an accurate measurement.

As you exhale into the tube, a computerized sensor in the spirometer calculates your airflow and other measures. Your results will be automatically compared to what is predicted for your age, gender, height and ethnicity. Your physician may order a nebulizer breathing treatment with a bronchodilator medication, such as albuterol, to relax the muscles surrounding the airways.

After the medication has had time to work, the test is repeated. If there’s a certain percentage of improvement in the test measurements that means the obstruction is reversible. The physician may prescribe a fast acting bronchodilator called a rescue inhaler. If there’s no immediate improvement, it’s possible that the obstruction will respond to slower acting drugs that reduce inflammation.

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