Researchers from the Global Lung Function Initiative have created the first universal benchmark for interpreting spirometry results that takes into account factors such as age and ethnicity.
Until now, clinicians have used a variety of lung function standards, meaning spirometry results can be interpreted differently across the NHS.
This has led to patients’ spirometry results being described as abnormal in one healthcare setting and normal in the next.
Researchers behind the project hope the new benchmark will reduce this variation and avoid lung disease being missed or patients overtreated.
Project lead Professor Janet Stocks from University College London told the European Respiratory Society annual congress in Vienna last week that the charts were a 'major step forward'.
'We will be able to better identify children most likely to benefit from medication, while avoiding giving medication to those who probably don't need it,’ she said.
‘We hope we can raise awareness of the spirometry test and encourage people to have their lungs tested if they think they notice a problem.’
Professor Stocks said consistent rules meant GPs could accurately assess spirometry data, and know hospitals would come to the same interpretation.
Researchers used data from 74,187 non-smokers aged 3-95 years to create a series of lung growth charts, which can be applied to all ages and multiple ethnicities for the first time.
Clinicians and patients can access an online tool to enter their data and check what their lung function ought to be.
Monica Fletcher, European Lung Foundation chairwoman, said: 'By spotting lung conditions early, we can work towards more effective treatments and help relieve symptoms or slow progression of the disease.’