Written by Dr. Srikanta J T
Children have an immature immune system and can fall sick frequently. Viral infections in the form of cough and cold are quite common, especially school-going children. Cold, cough and flu often result in the accumulation of fluids inside the lungs. These conditions may resolve on their own or with the help of medications. But in the case of persistent respiratory issues which don’t seem to resolve even with medical intervention, doctors may prescribe lung function test for children to understand the underlying causes.
If your child has been coughing or experiencing breathing difficulties, it is most certainly an issue with the lungs. Your doctor would advise you to consult a pulmonologist – a doctor specializing in treating lungs and related diseases. Now, they cannot treat your child without a proper test. They often depend on a lung function test to understand what is happening. What exactly happens in a lung function test? What can you expect and what should you prepare for? This article explains.
In This Article
A lung function test, more commonly known as the pulmonary function test, is a series of tests to check your child’s lungs. These tests will determine how healthy and effective your child’s lungs are.
A pulmonary function test is a non-invasive test that will measure the lung’s efficiency. If your child already has lung-related issues and is on medications to help them breathe, the lung function test will help to understand how effective the medicines are.
The test can be effective only if your child cooperates. This is not like a blood test where you can hold the child down by force and get the test done. A pulmonary function test requires your child to understand the instructions given and cooperate fully. Unless they do their part, the test cannot happen.
As mentioned above, the aim of the pulmonary function test is to measure the amount of air breathed in and out. It will precisely calculate how much air your child’s lungs are pulling in and how the airflow is – in and out of the body.
A lung function test can be done in two main ways. There will be more tests or variations to the tests under these methods of testing.
Chances are you have seen this device. A spirometer will have a mouthpiece, which your child will have to breathe into. On the other end, this device is connected to a computer, which will measure the quantity and speed of the air your child’s lungs are breathing in and out.
For a child who may get intimidated with a tube hooked up to them and a computer, doctors may mask it as a game. They might ask them to blow a horn or some other breathing toy. When presented as a series of games, the child will cooperate well and perform their best. They will be well occupied and won’t feel scared to do the test away from their parents.
However, kids will be kids and it is most natural for them to not cooperate beyond a certain point. Sometimes it may require you to make multiple visits to the clinic to complete the test.
Peak flow is a part of the spirometry test. Here the medical practitioner will ask your child to blow out as hard as they can. It is to measure how strong the lungs are and how much air it can push out. Though it is very similar to tests the doctor might have taken in his office, spirometry will have more accurate results.
Expect your child to become very tired, frustrated, or uncooperative in some time. This test can be difficult to complete for a small child. Hence, you may need to make multiple trips before the test is complete.
If your child has a lung issue, they mostly will be on some medication to help them breathe better.
A bronchodilator is a medicine that help open up the breathing tubes in the lungs. If your child is on this medication for breathing issues, the medical care professional will want to check the effect of this medicine. They will ask your child to inhale the bronchodilator and check their lung function after a gap of 15 minutes.
First, your child undergo the test without inhaling the medicine. Then they will be given the medicine. After 15 minutes the test will be repeated to check the effect of the medicine. The difference between the readings before and after inhaling the medicine will show how effective the medicine is, for your child.
Here your child will sit inside or stand inside an air-tight box-like structure for the purpose of testing.
Some young children may not be able to breathe in and out on cue as instructed. They won’t be able to breathe out or blow with enough force to record readings for the test. In such cases, forced Oscillometry is done to record accurate readings.
Don’t worry, though the name says “forced” your child will not undergo any pain or discomfort. In this test, the doctor will clip your child’s nose and seal their lips tightly around the mouthpiece. Now, a technician or a nurse will hold your child’s cheeks firmly. The machine will then send small bursts or puffs of air into your child’s mouth through the mouthpiece.
When your child is breathing regularly, these puffs of air pushed inside will help measure the flow of air in their lungs. It can measure the resistance and compliance of the lungs, thus helping understand the efficiency of the lungs.
A lung function test for children helps measure the efficiency or performance of the lungs. The tests can reveal the following.
So, can you give your child their regular lung medications before going for the test? No, not unless the doctor has cleared it.
Sometimes, children might have severe breathing issues and will be highly dependent on medications. In such cases, the doctor will advise you about when to administer the medicine and the dosage for the same. In cases, where the medicine is not an absolute necessity, the doctor will want to test your child’s lungs’ original capacity, without the extra help from the medicine.
These medicines might interfere in showing the exact level of lung function. With false readings or readings influenced by medicines, the doctors won’t be able to gauge the lungs’ efficacy.
Any test can be quite scary for a child, especially if it is a very young child. The minute you tell them you are taking them to the doctor, they panic, and their body tenses up. This can have a big effect on their breathing too.
Here are a few ways in which you can prepare your child for the tests to come.
These tests won’t take long. They might take just about 30 minutes. However, there are many factors that can influence the time taken. The tests can take more time, in the following situations:
The lung function test is a non-invasive test and is completely safe. However, your child might experience a few side effects such as:
Avoid taking a pulmonary function test for their child if the child has
You should remember that these tests measure the functioning of your child’s lungs. Sometimes, the readings may not be very accurate.
The accuracy of the tests greatly depends upon
A lung function test does precisely as the name suggests – it tests the functioning of your child’s lungs. Though quite challenging, this test can help doctors determine the health of your child’s lungs and diagnose correctly. This test can help in understanding the lungs better and address the various issues within.
[Read : Tuberculosis in Children]
In most cases, a child above the age of 6 can undergo the spirometry test. At this age, they will be able to understand and follow instructions during a test. Some children can perform the test even earlier. It all depends on the child and how well they can communicate with others.
Infant Pulmonary Function Testing is also possible for infants with lung or breathing issues. They will undergo sedation for easy completion of the test.
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