Why Do I Need a Pulmonary Function Test?
Last updated: October 2022
I had a pulmonary function test (PFT) this week. Among other things, this got me thinking about when those of us with asthma should have that test done. A lifelong asthmatic, I have only had a PFT three times. When I lived in Colorado I saw my primary care doctor for asthma. At no time did my doctor suggest any testing. I moved to New Mexico and the doctor I chose would not treat my asthma. They referred me to a pulmonologist. All things considered, that was a good move at the time, just out of my normal. In order to establish with this healthcare group, a PFT was mandatory.
My pulmonologist recently left this practice, and I needed a new provider. This practice would not allow me see a new doctor unless I had a current PFT. To say the least, that requirement frustrated and annoyed me. I thought I did not need a PFT because my asthma was under control. Besides, I was an existing patient of the practice. The rhetoric from the schedulers did nothing to make me any less annoyed. They told me "we have to have it for insurance purposes." In addition, they said "you haven't had one since 2018," but with no other pertinent information. Consequently, I had the test because I wanted to stay with this practice.
I wanted to know more about PFTs
Therefore, down the rabbit hole of online research I went! I learned that PFTs can track and assess my asthma severity. PFTs can monitor my medication efficacy. I understand now why my doctor's office ordered a new PFT. Firstly, I was not aware of a need for yearly PFTs. Secondly, looking for changes in my lung function by having PFTs is good medicine. Moreover, the type of doctor I see for my asthma influences what testing I get. In the past I've seen my primary care, and an allergy-asthma doctor. I could also have seen an internist. Now I see a pulmonologist.
So what is a pulmonary function test?
PFT is an accurate assessment of my breathing function. A PFT is a series of tests that measure spirometry, lung volumes, airway resistance, and more. Another name for a PFT is a lung function test. Each test involved breathing in and out, holding my breath, and taking short or long breaths. Equally important, the results were dependent on how well I followed instructions and breathed.1,2
Who administers a PFT?
A respiratory therapist (RT) or other technician does this test. The RT at my pulmonologist's office administered my tests. The treatment room had special equipment and a clear booth with a chair. The booth had a door. The door of the booth was open for most of the testing. One test using oxygen required the therapist to close and seal the door. The booth is a body box or plethysmograph. It reminds me of a science fiction contraption. The basic principles of these units have been around for over 100 years!
What happens during the testing?
The therapist talked me through every step of the testing. I had a nose clip with soft pads on my nose to prevent any nose breathing. Performing the tests was a lot of work for me. I should be doing deep breathing exercises every day!
The tests required that I breathe into the mouthpiece attached to the Spirometer. Each time I completed a test I coughed and moved phlegm around. I cannot even imagine doing these tests while being in an asthma flare. Each test was completed three times. Doing that provided an accurate portrayal of my breathing function. For one test I was given a nebulizer treatment of albuterol. This was to measure the difference after the treatment. I have not had an asthma flare for over two years. Having the albuterol treatment gave me jitters and dizziness. Overall, I am reminded how fortunate I am to have my asthma under control.
Being proactive for my asthma health
Ultimately, my hesitations in getting the test were financial. I am a senior on a fixed income. I am keenly aware of the extra costs of advanced medical tests. My insurance plan does not completely cover the cost of tests. In conclusion, I am confident the PFTs, even with the extra cost, were a good thing to do. Most importantly, the PFT test is non-invasive, as well as it provided an accurate assessment of my lung function. Getting out of my own way, and being proactive with my health is important. I understand the importance of utilizing tests for asthma management.
Have you had a PFT? If so, how often do you get PFTs and who orders them? I'd love to know your thoughts.
Breathe In, Breathe Out, Be Well!
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