What's All This Asthma Stuff? Part 2

Part 1 of "What's all this asthma stuff?" talked about metered dose inhalers, dry powder inhalers and spacers. Today we're going to talk about:

Peak flow meters

A peak flow meter is a small hand held device that measures your ability to push air out of your lungs. Some doctors love them, and some hate them. Asthma Doc said the reason why is that some kids can "fake it" if they don't want to go to school (by not blowing very hard). I love them because it gave me a heads up that my kids were getting sick. They would blow into their meter every morning and every night and yell out their number for me. I knew the number for each kid and what was normal and I could HEAR a change in the way they would sound when they blew into their peak flow meter. I knew that would mean a long couple of weeks because one of them was getting sick. Which brings me to:


Shortly after my kids were diagnosed with asthma, we had several trips to After Hours Doc where the kids would get a breathing treatment. He suggested we get a nebulizer to use at home. He said it would save us time and money (and possibly keep the kiddos out of the emergency room.) Insurance covered our machine (the compressor) and the tubing kits (nebulizer kits) as well as the vials of Albuterol. Home Health Care delivered the nebulizer to our house and showed us how to use it and clean it.

I’m not gonna lie – it took a while before I was comfortable using it. After Home Health Care Guy left, I couldn’t remember how the parts went together. So, I practiced taking the nebulizer kit apart and putting it back together, over and over and over. After a while, I got to the point where I could quickly put the kit together, add the medicine, and put the mask over the face of my sleeping child.

They have small units to use at home (mine is about the size of a big, thick paperback book) and is boring and beige. But now they make fun styles for kids that look like fire trucks, panda bears and penguins. Seriously? Why didn't they have those when my kids were little?

They also have small, hand-held nebulizers for when you are on the go. They run on batteries and are small enough to fit in your purse or pocket. Also wished they had those when my kids were little...


When my kids were little, the nurses called these “sat monitors”. The hospital staff showed us how to watch their “sat levels” (oxygen saturation levels) on the hospital monitors, and what the different numbers meant.  Now they call them oximeters and have handheld or fingertip units for families to use at home. Since your oxygen level should be in the high 90's,  we learned pretty quickly that if kids dropped to 89% or below, they would be admitted to the hospital. Some of the ER Docs said they didn’t like to just look at the oxygen level, they also looked to see if the kids had grey or pale skin, dark lips or fingernails or if their skin was “retracting” or pulling in along the rib or collarbone. Those are some of the emergency signs for asthma.

But since I was new to asthma 18 years ago, I liked seeing the oxygen level and our oximeter was my best friend! We had a borrowed hand-held unit I would slip on the kid’s finger at night and carefully pace the floor and watch their O2 level. They had a pattern that once their 02 dropped to 91% or below, they would keep dropping - even after we used the nebulizer. I would bundle that child up and head to the hospital. Their 02 level would go up a little just because they were awake, but drop again when they fell asleep. I would tell the ER staff that I wanted to stay there and have my child monitored because I KNEW their level would drop again. Sure enough, when they got to a deep sleep, they would drop to 87%. ER Doc would come back in their triage room and say, “Yep, time to admit them.”

I don't know how we got through all those rough years when the kids were little and hospitalized 12 times (thanks pneumonia.) But the one thing I had to learn quickly was the different types of asthma equipment and how and when to use them. And to keep asking questions until I felt like I knew what I was doing.

Hopefully, this has helped some of you!


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