​Study moves to lungs

FOLLOWING cardiovascular tests, the Hazelwood Health Study has moved onto checking lungs.

The Gippsland Times was invited to try out the tests, and see what will be measured.

All the clinical research data will not only be used to help with establishing benchmarks for the health study, but also to guide decisions for the entire Sale community.

After the tests, researchers hope to visit again in the future to compare how the results change over time.

The aim is to continue the study for 10 years.

People who have been invited to the study must first answer questions, as the study needs people who were in the area at the time of the mine fire in 2014, and were aged over 18.

None of the tests are invasive, though they do involve a finger prick to check haemoglobin levels.

The first test used vibrations to examine the elasticity of lungs.

Soundwaves are bounced back from the surface of the lung indicate airway narrowing and stiffness, which is then recorded.

The trick is not to laugh when the test begins, as it’s certainly an odd feeling.

Another test involves checking the level of nitrogen that is cleared through the lungs, which involves up to six minutes of breathing through a sensor machine.

Lung researcher Annie Makar said the spirometry test was commonly used for people who were asthmatic.

It examines how fast air can travel in and out of the lungs, which involves a highly motivated researcher loudly encouraging exhalation until wheezing begins.

It’s not harmful, but it does feel quite urgent.

It’s a fast and technical manoeuvre, according to the researchers.

“You keep blowing out until you’re all empty — it’ll feel like you’re empty quite quickly, but you have to keep going,” Ms Makar said.

“It tells us how fast you can expel air, it tells us if there’s any restrictions in the lungs and airways — an asthmatic will struggle to get the air out quickly.”

A final test checks how oxygen is exchanged, where participants breathe in a special gas mixture before the haemoglobin level is checked.

“Haemoglobin is what binds oxygen to blood — then we give you Ventolin, and run a couple of tests again to see if it has an effect,” Ms Makar explained.

The process does not take long, and participants are reimbursed for their time.

The difficult part is finding more participants to complete the survey, as it is only open to people who completed the cardiovascular testing last year.

Lead researcher Dr Brigitte Borg said there had been good numbers when the survey began, but anyone who had received a letter should consider joining.

“We really need to encourage anyone who’s been invited to participate to seriously consider it,” she said.

“We understand that for Sale residents there may be limited benefit for them personally for participating, but from the point of view of the Sale population as a whole, if we find significant findings in Sale it may help with directing services in the future to Sale.”

To find out more, visit hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au, or check out the Facebook page.