Due to the timing of the pandemic restrictions on normal routines and best medical care practices, I haven’t had my PFT tests since August 2019, when I was dealing with breathing issues after my car accident. Luckily, my breathing has pretty steady for me, but as it’s been more than 18 months, I’m very interested to learn whether or not there have been any changes.
While I was hoping to get the breathing test done on my March 31st appointment, he decided to do a lung and heart ultrasound, as well as order a separate CT scan, before scheduling me for the desired breathing test in mid May.
When I talk about knowing my triggers, and understanding my lung capacity over time / seasonal variations, this is when this part of the doctor’s PFT (Pulmonary Function Test) helps me to understand when I’m at my best or worst each year / each season. Going 18 months without knowing what’s working or not, especially when my oxygen saturation rates keep dropping down into the 80’s while exercising, is a concern for lack of statistical data about what’s really happening.
In my case, when doing a 3-year look back, it’s clear that I am at my best from April or May through October each year, and I credit my high October numbers to the fact that it’s still very warm where I live, and I will have had the extra exercise I get all Summer (during the warm weather) to help my lungs function at their best despite their poor performance overall.
Additionally, I can see that the Winter / rainy weather which typically kicks in during November and can run through early March is also visible in my lung performance because I’m spending more time indoors, hiding from the wet and cold weather, and I’m getting less exercise every day.
So, for anyone new to what it means to have COPD, it’s important you get to know your numbers.
Don’t hesitate to talk to your pulmonologist or respiratory therapist about quarterly or semi-annual PFT tests, and run comparative assessments about when you feel your best vs. when the test results say you are doing well. Since one of the tests they give you includes a lung function test without using an inhaler as well as after using an inhaler, it’s an important tolerance test to let you know if the $400 or $500 a month medication is worth the improvement in your breathing you may experience short-term, as well as the complications for causing osteoporosis, cataracts, etc., etc., etc. So much goes into every decision about what medications to use, what medications to skip, and what alternate health / wellness treatments to try, that it’s important that we keep an open mind while also being open to alternative treatments.
It’s easy to ignore our daily efforts to continue to improve our own levels of wellness, but it’s important for your overall quality of life that you participate in your care options and in efforts to make yourself feel your best despite your diagnosis.
As for me? I’m working on a cruise for 2021 (tight budget until it’s all paid for), and I’m plugging in that trip for next January to some place warm and sunny to help me keep my swampy lungs dried out, and to give me some excitement during the worst part of my breathing year.
I realize my choice to travel before anything else isn’t for everyone, but you can do more if you concentrate your spoons of energy on how to get the most out of your life despite our overall challenging quality of life diagnosis.
I hope this information helps anyone reading this who may have breathing issues, or being a caregiver for someone with breathing issues, understand the importance of regular PFT testing, as well as the importance of knowing your specific results over time. It should help you to understand what is and is not working in your efforts to feel your best every day despite any weather or seasonal challenges that may act as exacerbation triggers for your version of the disease.
This is a typical result I achieve when running my PFT tests.
When I talk about my lung capacity being 26 or 27 percent, that’s highlighted in blue ink on the image above. The green highlighted area shows the normal range expected if one is healthy. The yellow highlighted area shows my actual measurements for liters of air processed during the 7 or 8 seconds noted when I’m inhaling or exhaling.
Remember – FVC = Forced Vital Capacity (what you can inhale) and FEV1 = Forced Expiratory Volume (when you exhale) over that same 7 or 8 seconds noted on the diagram.
As you can see, I can get in very little air, and I’m done at about 1-2 seconds for inhaling. Then, I can exhale for longer, but I’m pushing myself to get the air out (forced expiration). In general, I breathe very shallowly, and need to concentrate to take big inhales and big exhales when I’m trying to get my oxygen saturations up as the numbers fall into the 80% saturation rate while exercising.
Hopefully, this annotated image helps you to understand your own test results if your doctor runs these tests and gives you copies. As Russ Winwood of www.COPDathlete.com has shown, knowledge is power, and you should get these tests run during the 4 seasons of the year over time so that you get a feel for when you are at your best or worst for breathing abilities.
Finally, when you look at the rating I’m given (under the green column), you can see I get a “D” or “Barely Passing” grade. (One of the tests I took when I was 58 told me I had the lungs of an 80 year old – ha, ha – but the important point is that I’m staying stable for the last couple of years, and I continue to push myself to try and maintain this level of measurable functionality).
For those new to COPD who may be reading this to try and educate yourself about other folks experiences, tricks and tips for wellness, I hope this data helps you build your own set of helpful, relevant, factual markers.