If you have ongoing symptoms of cough, mucus, wheeze, shortness of breath and chest infections, then you might have COPD. Some people will not have all of these symptoms. COPD mainly affects those over the age of 40 years and there is usually a history of cigarette smoking.

The most commonly used diagnostic test for COPD is spirometry.

What is Spirometry?

Spirometry (measuring lung capacity) is the most useful test to diagnose and monitor COPD. It is also helpful for measuring the severity of COPD and will help guide your healthcare professional to work through your treatment goals and know which inhalers might be best for you.

This test itself involves blowing into a mouthpiece connected to a machine called a spirometer. It assesses how fast and for how long you can blow air out of your lungs. You may also be given a bronchodilator (a medicine used to relax your airways) during the spirometry testing.

What happens during a spirometry test?

Having a spirometry test is straightforward. You may find that you feel a bit puffed, but usually it is not uncomfortable. You will be given instructions on how to blow into the mouthpiece. Generally, it involves taking a full breath in and blowing out through the mouthpiece as hard and fast as you can. The test will be repeated at least three times. The test is performed when seated and usually takes 10 to 20 minutes.

You may be asked not to take your regular inhaler(s) before the test. Some people may have a second set of three tests after using a bronchodilator (a medicine used to relax your airways). This is done to assess if your airways respond to the inhaler.

Some people will also be asked to have a chest x-ray or a CT scan to look at the lungs in more detail. This is more likely if you are having frequent flare ups or are very breathless. Blood tests can also help guide your healthcare practitioner on which inhalers may be best for you.