The researchers have devised a method that can detect problems even in children under the age of five years. The test was presented at the launch of the British Lung Foundation's 'Lungs are for Life' campaign.
The technique called Multiple Breath Washout allows a child to breathe quietly into a face mask while watching a favorite video for about 10 to 15 minutes. This mask is connected to a flow meter that tabulates how much air goes in and out of the lung with each breath.
Professor Janet Stocks and colleagues at University College London, Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond St Hospital tested this method in 40 normal children and 40 pre-school children with cystic fibrosis. The test was able to detect abnormalities in 73 percent of children with cystic fibrosis.
"It means that early lung disease can be detected before the symptoms are apparent," said Professor Stocks. "It also means that we can undertake continuous assessments of lung growth and development from infancy, which will give us invaluable information on the progression of lung disease and the effect of different types of medication during early childhood."
Helena Shovelton, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation welcomed this development, "The development of better ways of detecting and treating lung disease in early childhood not only brings relief to the children who suffer from such diseases and those who care for them but could have life-long benefits."