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History of the Spirometer
The History of Spirometers:
Spirometry measures the flow and volume of air as it enters and exits the lungs. The testing and evaluation of lung functions goes back many centuries, and the same basic principles used then are used today as well. Technique, however, has changed substantially through the generations - allowing scientists to measure more variables than ever before.
The earliest recorded history of of spirometry dates all the way back to the time of the Roman Empire. Between 129-200 A.D., Doctor Claudius Galen experimented in the measurement of volumes of human ventilation. He simply had someone breathe into a bladder and found out that, after some time had passed, the volume of gas did not change.
It can be safely assumed that much more research occurred after Galen's volume testing - but there is not much on record until well into the 1600s. In 1681, Giovanni Alphonso Borelli tried to determine how much air was taken inspired on one breath by simply sucking a liquid up a tube - similar to how a straw is used to day - and then measuring its volume. When performing this experiment, Borelli blocked air from coming in and out of his nostrils so as not to contaminate the purity of the results.
In the early 1700s, J. Jurin became the first scientist to record the absolute measurements of air volumes. He, too, blew into a bladder and was able to measure the volume of air inside at 650mL tidal volume and 3610 mL maximal expiration. It was the groundwork laid by these men that paved the way for the era of modern spirometry.
In the 1840s, John Hutchinson, a surgeon, invented the spirometer to measure vital capacity. Hutchinson believed that this particular category of measurement was an indicator of longevity of life. This first spirometer was simply created with a calibrated bell that was inverted in some water, which was designed to capture exhaled air from the lungs. Hutchinson used it to test more than 4,000 people - refining his ability to determine the link between vital capacity and health.
In 1859, E. Smith developed what is believed to be the first portable spirometer. He also tested over 4,000 people and was able to determine that the three parameters determining vital capacity are height, weight and age.
By the 1920s, ergospirometric testing was developed by H.W. Knipping. This allowed for testing of performance instead of just taking measurements of people at rest. The idea of measuring lung capacity during periods of physical activity was a major breakthrough in the world of science. Ergospirometric methods are still used today. They make it possible for exercise physiologists to measure consumption of oxygen and expenditure of energy during exercise, and to therefore gain immense amounts of information regarding the fitness and health levels of the test subjects.
Many medical disciplines make effective use of ergospirometry and owe much of their knowledge and innovation to it.
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