More Than Numbers
As a clinician, we oftentimes speak in numbers. It’s like we have an entirely separate language of our own. We use it in our hospital and clinical charting systems and as well as our communicating between each other. Numbers are important. They tell us so much about a person and how they are doing internally.
Your arterial blood oxygen levels tell us how well you are getting oxygen throughout your body. Your white blood cell count tells us if you have an infection brewing. There are many other lab tests that can give us some insight as to what is going on inside your body. Your vital signs are also important numbers we look at (heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, etc).
Asthma numbers to check
As an asthmatic myself, there are aspects of our asthma that we can track in numbers to see how we are doing and see when things might start to trend downward. There are two sets of numbers in particular I wanted to focus on for this post. Peak flow and pulse oximetry.
Keeping track of your peak flow is a good idea as often times you might notice that your peak flow will start to drop even before you notice your asthma symptoms begin. You can then take the steps outlined in your asthma action plan and know when to call your doctor. If you don’t have an asthma action plan, ask your doctor for one the next time you see him or her. They’re quite handy to have!
These handy little devices have gained momentum in recent years for home use as they have become affordable. A portable pulse oximeter is a small device that slips over your fingertip and measures your heart rate and oxygen saturation. Textbook normal oxygen saturation is anything 92% and above (100% being as good as it gets).
What do these asthma numbers mean?
Now I will say that there tends to be a bit of misunderstanding with these little devices and asthmatics. Often times asthmatics are really good oxygen compensators. This means you can be really struggling to breathe, yet your oxygen saturation could be near perfect or in the completely normal range and could leave you scratching your head wondering why. This doesn’t mean you aren’t having an asthma flare-up.
I always say that asthma symptoms trump numbers. Always go off of how you feel over a number that you see. Always. But not all asthmatics are this way. Some will notice their oxygen saturations start to drop the moment their asthma starts to flare up. I definitely recommend talking with your doctor before obtaining a pulse oximeter of any kind to discuss what he or she recommends as far as expectations for your own personal asthma plan and usage of the device.
A pulse oximeter also measures your heart rate. Your heart rate might also increase when you are struggling to breathe and when you feel anxious which is another super common feeling when you can’t catch your breath. It’s a downright scary feeling when we can’t breathe!
Talk to your doctor
Like I have said above, it is very important to discuss your peak flow readings and the use of a pulse oximeter with your doctor prior to obtaining one or both. Knowing exactly what they recommend and having set guidelines will help set your mind at ease so you will have a better plan of action to take if and when your asthma starts to act up.
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