Respiratory Examination

This is essentially an examination of the patient’s lungs; however it is a complex examination which also includes examination of other parts of the body including the hands, face and neck.

The respiratory examination aims to pick up on any respiratory (breathing) pathology that may be causing a patient’s symptoms e.g. shortness of breath, cough, wheeze etc.  Common conditions include chest infections, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  This examination is performed on every patient that is admitted to hospital and regularly in clinics and general practice.

Like most major examination stations this follows the usual procedure of inspect, palpate, percuss, auscultate (look, feel, tap, listen).  It is an essential skill to master and is often examined in OSCEs.

Subject steps

  1. Whilst using the stethoscope, ask the patient to again say “99” or “blue balloon” whilst listening in all areas – this is a more reliable test than the one described earlier.

  2. Thank your patient and allow them to dress.  Wash your hands and report your findings to your examiner.

Hot Topic – Tactile Vocal Fremitus


UK students are still typically taught to use the phrase ’99’ to check for tactile vocal fremitus. There are however thoughts that phrases such as ‘toy boat’ or ‘blue balloons’ are more appropriate.