How Pulmonary Function Testing Helps You and Your Staff Breathe Easy

Our bodies have a hard job. Without us having to think about it, they perform tasks like pumping blood, digesting food, fighting infections, and filtering toxins. But few of those jobs are as vital as pulmonary function, a.k.a. breathing. How well our lungs get oxygen into our bloodstream has a massive impact on our overall health. But pulmonary function can decline quickly or slowly due to several factors and impair our ability to breathe. Testing pulmonary function can set a baseline, evaluate current ability, and measure progress over time. At Midtown Occupational Health Services, we are pleased to provide pulmonary function testing by our accredited in-house physicians.

As an employer, it’s important to check the health and safety of your team. Testing before employment begins establishes a baseline of their pulmonary health. Periodic testing throughout their career serves to identify any potential problems and catch signs of disease early on. This early detection is especially necessary if the workplace presents hazards like those we’ll discuss below. Consistent pulmonary health monitoring helps protect your employees from health issues and measures their ability to perform related job functions. It can also provide risk mitigation from expensive legal and safety compliance issues to employers.

Causes of Decline

Before we discuss testing for pulmonary health, it’s a good idea to identify some causes of pulmonary health decline. Our respiratory health is affected by our genetics, our habits, and our environment. Gender, age, ethnicity, and family history can make us more susceptible to respiratory disease. Smoking, obesity, and viral infections are risk factors that can come from our life habits. Both reduce lung capacity and performance.

When it comes to the work environment, pulmonary risks come in the form of exposure to harmful substances. If exposure to dust, solvents, radon, fuel emission, asbestos, or metal particles is part of the conditions where you are, getting your employees tested is a crucial part of any safety monitoring program. Any one or combination of these can cause lung disease over time. Restrictive lung disease – diseases like pectus excavatum and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – prevents the lungs from expanding to their full capacity. Obstructive lung disease – like COPD, asthma, and emphysema – reduces the amount of air that can be expelled from the lungs.

Fortunately, there are several ways to test for pulmonary function. Here are the top tests employed by medical professionals.


Because of its reliability and affordability, spirometry is one of the most common pulmonary testing methods available. This test is the one that our medical professionals use at Midtown Occupational Health Services. It can detect signs of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, and pulmonary fibrosis. Spirometry also indicates the severity of any pulmonary conditions and how far a disease has progressed.

Spirometry is an easy, non-invasive test that doesn’t take long to perform. A specialist must review the results, so they might not be available on the same day. To take the spirometry test, we ask patients to to sit comfortably and breathe into a mouthpiece. They’ll be asked to take a deep breath and let it all out in one forced exhale. The test measures how fast air moves in and out of the lungs. Anyone who is a smoker, over the age of 25, or experiencing a persistent cough or breathlessness should have a spirometry test performed. Spirometry is often requested before a patient goes in for surgery.


Despite its complicated-sounding name, a plethysmography test is also simple to perform. It measures lung volume, lung capacity, rates of airflow, and how well gas is exchanged between the lungs and the blood. The test can detect obstructive conditions like too much mucus and restrictive conditions like low volume. Taking a plethysmography test is a lot like taking the spirometry test, except the patient stands inside a specially-designed box to breathe. It measures how much air the patient takes in and detects how much of that air comes back out. The main difference between this and the spirometry test is the cost since the plethysmography test requires more specialized equipment.

Gas Diffusion Test

The gas diffusion test is another way to test pulmonary function. This test focuses mainly on how efficient your body is at moving gas from your lungs to your blood. When we inhale, the air we take in doesn’t just hang out in the lungs until it’s expelled as CO2. The reason we breathe is to get oxygen into our bloodstream, where it’s carried to other parts of the body. The blood carries gasses back out to the lungs and we exhale it. For this test, a patient inhales a small amount of gas. Helium, nitrogen, and carbon monoxide are some of the gasses commonly used in a gas diffusion test, but in amounts that aren’t harmful to the patient. A machine measures how much gas is exchanged.

Exercise Stress Test

Another name for this is a cardiopulmonary exercise test or CPET. As you might expect, an exercise stress test measures lung function during exercise. The patient runs or walks on a treadmill or stationary bicycle while attached to several monitoring devices. As they exercise, the devices monitor blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, and heart rate. As well as breathing through a mouthpiece during the test, the patient may be asked to provide blood samples. These samples are used to measure the levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood during exercise. That portion is usually done through a catheter inserted into the arm before the test. It’s a more invasive test than the others but has the added benefit of blood analysis.

Being able to breathe naturally is vital to our health and can dramatically affect our quality of life. Pulmonary function testing can catch the warning signs of pulmonary distress before they get worse. While Midtown provides many occupational therapy and recovery services, we’re invested in catching problems before they happen. We like to see our patients happy and healthy before they need to come in for treatment.

If your workplace includes exposure to potentially-harmful conditions like asbestos, dust, solvents, and fuel emissions, you need to establish pulmonary health testing protocols as soon as possible. Midtown Occupational Health Services can help you develop a testing schedule, informational materials, and pre-employment screening procedures so you and your team can breathe easy. Call us at 303-831-9393 to speak with a client development director today.

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