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Listening to Asthma.

Listening to Asthma

Like many moms, my kids have asked if I have eyes in the back of my head. Well, yes. All moms do.

And we can also hear everything, even if we’re not looking at someone – we’re always listening.

And what do I hear?

I listen for coughing.

This is enough to wake me up out of a deep sleep. My kids were sick a LOT when they were little. In fact, pneumonia is one of my most hated asthma triggers because it caused 12 hospitalizations for my kids. (Two of those were ICU admissions.) Scary stuff.

Sometimes I will hear one of my kids coughing and I will search the house until I find them. Once in a while, they will say, “Mom, chill out. I just swallowed wrong!”

Okay, just checking…

But if I hear a cough and they are sick, what does it sound like? Is it a dry, hard cough? Does it sound like they are coughing up mucus from their lungs? How hard is the cough? Are they coughing so hard they are going to throw up?

Do they need their inhaler or a breathing treatment with the nebulizer?

I listen to the Peak flow meter.

When they were little, my kids used their peak flow every morning and every night. I knew each kid’s number by heart. At our house, the rule was ‘use your peak flow and yell out the number so mom knows you are okay’.

I could HEAR their lungs when they exhaled. Peak flow meters measure how much air you can move out of your lungs. So you blow into the handheld device as hard as you can. It’s usually a forceful whoosh, followed by one of them yelling out “350”. Some days I would hear a weak whoosh, followed by “275. “Do it again!” I would say in a panic. Still 275. So we would start a breathing treatment and keep a close eye on them. Usually, they would continue to drop – 250, 200, and we would head to the hospital.

A peak flow meter gave me a ‘number’ to be able to tell the ER staff. “He’s usually 350 on his peak flow, and he’s at 175 now – even after we used the nebulizer.” The red zone is always 50% of your “best” or highest reading. That means get to the ER – fast!

Their Voice

After they used their peak flow meter and yelled out that their level had dropped, I would rush into the other room and I noticed something a little weird over the years. Their voice would change. It would be higher and “tight”. I could HEAR the swelling in their lungs (by how their voice changed.)

I shared that info once during a research study of parents of kids with asthma. On our last meeting, I mentioned something to the doctors about how my kid’s voices change and get higher and tighter when their peak flow meter number drops. I saw two doctors staring at me with a shocked expression, one of them had his mouth hanging open in surprise. They quickly exchanged glances with each other, and then looking back at me. One of the docs said, “You are telling me you can hear a difference in your child’s VOICE when their asthma flares up?” I looked back at them and replied matter-of-factly, “Well, yes.” The doctors were shocked and said, “We have never heard of this before.”  Another parent near me started nodding her head and said, “Oh yeah – you can definitely hear it.”

The best part of being in the research study? Sharing what it’s like to live with a disease. We were able to help shape their research project based on input from the patients.

Using their inhaler

I listen for my kids too, to make sure they:

  • Exhale first
  • Then inhale (slowly)
  • Hold their breath
  • Exhale
  • Rinse their mouth

Does it sound right? I listen to all of the steps. Did they do everything correctly? They have had asthma all their life, so they should have proper technique. But, sometime they can be in a hurry, tired, etc and take short cuts.

I listen for the nebulizer.

treatment? When that happens, the machine will start to “sputter”. I look over to make sure the kids are tapping the nebulizer kit. That gets the last of the medicine out when it is almost empty.


What do they sound like? Are they breathing fast – panting? (Did you know that “asthma” is the Greek word for “panting”?)


What do you hear with asthma? What sounds do you listen for?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Katbird
    11 months ago

    My peak flows are so low the regular meters don’t work for me. But it sounds like you use them correctly and well. Your kids are lucky to have such a smart mother. Maybe I need a kids meter.

  • Andrea M Jensen, CHES (R), AE-C author
    11 months ago

    Hi Katbird, we actually all use the same style meter. My oldest son has a higher peak flow than I do (of course he is a bagpiper – so that could explain it!)

    It’s been 18 years of learning about asthma. I didn’t feel very smart when they were first diagnosed, but I learned over the years. Now it’s my profession – helping others with asthma!

    Good luck with managing your asthma 🙂

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    11 months ago

    Hi Katbird and thanks for your post. Based on what you’ve said (the meter not working well for you in the low ranges), I would suggest you discuss this with your prescribing physician. Please do check back and let us know how you’re doing. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

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