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Cardiothoracic Services (Heart and Lung)

Lung Function Department Freeman Hospital

Contact: 0191 2137784

The Lung Function Department performs breathing tests in adults and children, and sleep studies in adults. There is a separate sleep unit specifically for children which is based in the ENT Department.  Patients can attend as inpatients from a ward or from home as an outpatient. 

Breathing tests determine how much air your lungs can hold, how quickly you can move air in and out of your lungs, and how well your lungs add oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from your blood.  The test results can be used to help diagnose lung diseases and measure the severity of lung problems. They can also be used to assess the effect of medication and to measure progress in the treatment of disease.

Sleep studies monitor what happens to your breathing during sleep to find out what is causing your sleep problems.  More detailed tests are done in the hospital and simpler tests at home.

How to find us

Directions to the wardShow [+] Hide [-]

The Lung Function Department is based in the Cardiothoracic Centre at Freeman Hospital. To find us:

  • Come through the entrance of the Cardiothoracic Centre and walk past the reception desk following round to your right.
  • When you come to a junction turn left and look for a sign on your right hand side for the Lung Function Department. 

How to get to the hospital

Staff you are likely to meet

Lung function testsare performed by clinical physiologists specialised in respiratory physiology. Some more specialised lung function tests may also require a doctor to attend. 

Sleep tests are performed by either a clinical physiologist or a sleep specialist nurse.

The types of test you can expectShow [+]Hide [-]

Some of the more common lung function tests include:-

Lung Function tests:

Spirometry - Spirometry is used to measure how much and how quickly you can blow air out of your lungs. For this test, you breathe into a mouthpiece attached to a recording device (spirometer). The information collected by the spirometer is printed out on a chart called a spirogram.

Lung Spirometry in action
Spirometry Recording

Gas Diffusion - A gas diffusion test measures the rate at which a gas crosses the lungs' air sacs (alveoli) into your blood.  During the test you will breathe in air containing a very small amount of test gas from the equipment while measurements are taken.

Lung Volume Measurement - You will sit in a sealed, transparent box that resembles a telephone box (a “body plethysmograph”)) and will be asked to breathe in and out through a mouthpiece. Changes in pressure inside the box allow the calculation of the size of your lung.

Body Plethysmograph
A Body Plethysmograph in use

Skin Prick Tests - Skin prick tests are used to identify if you have any allergies. Small drops of fluid containing tiny amounts of allergens are dropped onto the forearm and the skin pricked with a small needle. Routinely 11 allergens are used including pollens, house dust mites and animal fur.  A positive reaction occurs if a small area of swelling, redness and often itching develops. You should stop using any antihistamine medicines for two days prior to these tests.

Methacholine Challenge - Methacholine provokes narrowing of the airways (bronchoconstriction) and can help in the diagnosis of asthma. Spirometry is performed before and after breathing increasing concentrations of methacholine. People with asthma tend to react to even a low level of methacholine. 

Exercise Tests - In most cases, enough information can be obtained from lung function tests done while sitting at rest. It is occasionally important to measure lung and heart function during exercise because some problems only show up then.  Depending on the type of exercise test a static bicycle or a treadmill is used.

  • Cardiopulmonary exercise tests involve pedalling on a bicycle while measurements are taken including: the amount of oxygen used; carbon dioxide produced by the body; the total amount of air breathed in and out; together with the heart and breathing rate. Breathing is measured through a mouthpiece. Most people are able to pedal for about 5 to 10minutes. 
  • The 6-minute walk test is a very simple procedure measuring how far you can walk in 6 minute periods along a corridor.
  • Exercise tests are also performed with children who may have asthma. Spirometry is performed before and after exercise on a treadmill. Heart rate and oxygen levels are monitored whilst exercising.

When you have an exercise test, be sure to bring comfortable clothing and shoes  suitable for exercising and avoid having a heavy meal for 2-3 hours beforehand.

Sleep Studies:

Diagnostic Study - This test records several measurements during sleep including: blood oxyen levels; the flow of air through your mouth and nose; chest and abdomen movements; heart rate and rhythm; snoring; and sometimes brain activity and eye movement. The test is performed overnight and can be done in the hospital or at home.

CPAP trial - CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) is the treatment used for most patients with sleep apnoea. The trial involves wearing a mask overnight which blows air into the airways to assist breathing and improve sleep.

CPAP Trial
CPAP Equipment

What happens next?

The lung function test results are sent to your doctor in the hospital. They will be discussed with you when your doctor next speaks with you in the outpatients department or on the ward.

A few weeks after a sleep study you will attend a clinic at the hospital to discuss the results with either a sleep doctor or sleep specialist nurse.

Things you need to know

  • It is often helpful if you bring a list of your current medication with you.
  • Try to avoid using your inhaler for 4 hours prior to the test, unless it is essential that you do so ( i.e salbutamol (Ventolin), terbutaline (Bricanyl), ipratropium (Atrovent) or tiotropium (Spiriva) )
  • For the exercise induced asthma test only, please avoid using salmeterol (Serevent) or montelucast (Singulair) for 12 hours prior to the test.
  • For a skin prick test or the methacholine challenge, please avoid taking antihistamine tablets for at least 48 hours prior to the test.
  • Do not smoke for 24 hours before attending the clinic.
  • Do not wear clothing that might restrict your breathing.
  • Do not carry out any strenuous exercise or eat a substantial meal for 2 hours before the test.
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