It is important for those who have asthma to closely monitor their lungs, breathing, and symptoms. One way to do this is to use a peak flow meter. A peak flow meter measures how quickly your lungs release air. In turn, this tells you how well you are breathing. Monitoring your peak flow can improve your health and prevent dangerous asthma attacks.
How to Measure Your Peak Flow
First, let’s discuss what a peak flow meter is. A peak flow meter is a portable device with a tube, an arrow, and numbers. To measure your peak flow, place your lips on the tube, inhale deeply, and then exhale as quickly and as long as you can. Sustained breath is important. The device measures the volume of air released from your lungs and provides you with a score, indicated by the arrow and numbers on the device.
Understanding Your Peak Flow Readings
For an effective peak flow rating, you need to know what the numbers and readings mean. Your doctor will help you figure out how all the numbers and details relate to you personally. However, it helps if you know some basic information. Consider the following two questions and their answers.
1. What is a normal peak flow?
Again, your score is indicated by the spirometer’s numbers and arrow. Generally speaking, the higher the number, the better. It is important to keep track of the numbers in an asthma action plan (more on that in a minute) so you can take note of your highest peak flow rating over the course of several weeks. Begin looking for correlations, causations, and determine what might be triggering your symptoms and causing your peak flow rating to decrease.
2. What happens if your peak flow is low?
After a few tests, your doctor should let you know what your “danger zone” is. Your danger zone is the highest meter number that indicates a need for quick-relief medication, often referred to as “rescue medication.” In other words, it tells you what rating necessitates a doctor’s visit or fast action. Typically, your readings should fall in the “average” or “normal” zone. At least, that’s where you want to keep them!
How Can an Asthma Action Plan Help?
A written asthma action plan serves as a helpful tool for monitoring asthma symptoms, triggers, and attacks. In a nutshell, this plan (developed with the aid of your doctor) is a daily “asthma diary” that lists things such as peak flow ratings, asthma flare-ups, rough days, good days, etc. Not only does this help you identify trigger points, but it also provides a great resource for your doctor to refer back to later. It helps answer a lot of questions about your condition and even result in more effective treatment.
Should You Measure a Child’s Peak Flow?
While adults with asthma often use peak flow measurements to monitor their asthma, doctors recommend a different method for children. The method used to measure the breathing of a child with asthma is called an FEV1 score. This stands for Forced Expiratory Volume in the first second.
This method measures the volume of air from the first second of an exhaled breath. This differs from a peak flow measurement in that a long and sustained exhale is not required. The information gathered from this test is used to help doctors determine the airflow in young children and how to assist their breathing.
What is a Normal FEV1 Score?
Results (known as the FEV1%) are determined by comparing and contrasting against a predicted value calculated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The test also takes into consideration the results of children of the same age, height, race, and gender. For children, a score above 80% usually means their breathing is within a normal range. A score below 80% means that they are below the normal range.