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Medicine Services

Lung Function Department, RVI

0191 233 6161

The Lung Function Department performs breathing tests in adults and children. 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.

How to find us

Staff you are likely to meet

Lung function tests are performed by clinical physiologists specialised in respiratory physiology.

The types of tests you can expect

Some of the more common lung function tests include:

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.

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 - Lung volume measurement allows the calculation of the size of your lung.  During the test you will be asked to breathe normally through a mouthpiece for approximately 5 minutes. You will be breathing a small amount of test gas. At the end of which you will be asked to take some deep breaths in and out.   

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 10 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 - The 6-minute walk test is a very simple procedure measuring how far you can walk in 6 minute periods along a corridor.  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.

Ambulatory oxygen assessments - This test involves performing 3 x 6minute distance tests to assess whether oxygen helps you walk further.

Fitness to fly tests - Fitness to fly tests assess whether you will require oxygen whilst flying. The test takes 20 minutes to carry out and will require breathing an oxygen concentration similar to that in a plane. Blood tests may be taken prior to the test and after the test. You oxygen levels will be monitored throughout the test.

Mouth Pressure Tests - This tests measures how strong your respiratory muscles are.

Nebuliser Loan Service – If your respiratory consultant thinks that you would benefit from a home nebuliser, we provide a loan service for this 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.

Things you need to know

When attending for a lung function test:

  • You may be asked to stop using your inhalers for a period of time before your appointment. You will be advised of this.
  • For a skin prick test or the methacholine challenge, please avoid taking antihistamine tablets for at least 48 hours prior to the test.
  • It is often helpful if you bring a list of your current medication with you.
  • 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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