Let’s Talk Peak Flows & Peak Flow Meters

Peak expiratory flow rate (or PEFR) measures how fast a person can exhale (blow out). Peak
flows can be one of the most valuable tools an asthmatic has to monitor their disease. When an asthmatic is headed toward a crisis or in a crisis the numbers will go down due to the narrowing of the airways. You might notice your peak flow trending down before you start to feel tight or wheezy. As your smaller airways become inflamed it will be harder to blow out, thus your numbers will go down.

Peak Flow measurements are completely effort dependent so if you haven’t been shown the proper way to perform it, it won’t do you any good. There really isn’t a “normal” peak flow measurement for men & women. Everyone’s “normal” will be different. There are guides hay are based on height, but again everyone will have a different average. You will first need to figure out your own personal best number. This number is the highest number you have ever been able to blow.

How to measure your Peak Flow: Once you have a peak flow meter (there are many many different makes & models of meters out there & they all get the job done. You don’t need a fancy digital one to get the most accurate result.) Your doctor should be able to get you one for free otherwise you can buy one, they’re not expensive. It’s always best to stand when doing a peak flow measurement but not essential to get a good result. So you’ll want to breathe in as deeply as you can & then seal your lips around the mouthpiece and blow out AS HARD & AS FAST AS YOU CAN. This is essential for getting an accurate result. Imagine you are blowing out a birthday cake full of candles & you have to get them all out in one quick breath. Make sure your tongue is UNDER the mouthpiece & not covering it in any way when you’re blowing out. This will skew the result. Then repeat this 2 more times. You always want to do a minimum of 3 blows & take the highest of the 3 & chart it. All 3 measurements should be pretty close in number to each other. It’s recommended to take peak flow measurements twice a day minimum. First thing in the morning & before bed. Do your peak flows before you take your medicine. It will be a more accurate result. Keep track in a journal or in your smart phone (their are several apps that can help you track it.) Once you’ve established your personal best number you can set your green-yellow-red zones in your asthma action plan. Green zone = 80% or better of your personal best.

Yellow = 50-80% of your personal best. Red = 50% & lower. Generally when you’re in your specific red zone it’s time to go to the ER/Hospital & get help immediately. And when you’ve established these zones you can come up with a plan with your doctor as to what steps to take when in the yellow & red zones etc. Everyone’s action plan will be totally different.

Peak flow meters are widely under used and it’s such an easy tool to use once you get the hang of it. Take it from me, a severe persistent steroid dependent silent asthmatic & also a Respiratory Therapist with over 10 years in the profession, get a peak flow meter & use it.

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

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