One of the tricky things about asthma is that you can't always avoid your triggers. Pollution, pollen, mold, and other allergens are often in the air you breathe.
Even if you're breathing OK, an asthma flare-up could be just around the corner. How can you tell? Doctors sometimes want people to use a tool called a peak flow meter as a way to predict flare-ups.
A peak flow meter is a portable device that you blow into like a balloon. It can measure how well your lungs are working. Knowing that can help you and your doctor control your asthma better.
If you can't blow out as much air as usual, it might mean that you'll have an asthma flare-up soon. How soon? It could be in the next hour or even 2 or 3 days away. But knowing this ahead of time can help you take steps to prevent a really bad flare-up.
Readings from a peak flow meter also can help doctors check how well someone's asthma medicine is working. Peak flow meters also can help some people figure out what's triggering asthma symptoms by taking readings before and after being exposed to a suspected trigger, such as animal dander.
Using a peak flow meter is simple. Set it to zero. Then stand up, take a deep breath, hold it, then blow as quickly and strongly into the device as you can. Record the number that the meter reads. Repeat this three times and use the highest recorded number as your reading.
That number alone isn't the whole story. You'll want to compare today's reading with your "personal best." That's the best reading you've ever had. Your doctor will help you establish your "personal best" early in your treatment.
Your doctor will help you set up three zones of peak flow meter readings:
Not everyone needs to use a peak flow meter regularly. Your doctor will let you know if it should be part of your regular asthma management schedule. For example, if you take asthma medicine every day, your doctor may want you to use your peak flow meter once or twice a day.
Your doctor might ask you to record peak flow meter results and bring them with you to your appointments. This gives the doctor helpful information so he or she can decide the right treatment for you.
It might feel like a hassle to have to take peak flow readings, especially when you aren't having breathing problems. But it's much worse to have an unexpected flare-up that could ruin your day or your plans for the evening.
For all their hard work, what do peak flow meters ask of you? Just to be kept clean. Wash yours regularly with mild soap and hot water.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014
|American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology offers up-to-date information and a find-an-allergist search tool.|
|American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The ACAAI is an organization of allergists-immunologists and health professionals dedicated to quality patient care. Contact them at: American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology|
85 W. Algonquin Road
Suite 550 Arlington Heights, IL 60005
|American Lung Association The mission of this group is to prevent lung disease and promote lung health. Contact the group at: American Lung Association|
61 Broadway, 6th Floor
NY, NY 10006
|Asthma Center Visit our Asthma Center for information and advice on managing and living with asthma.|
|How Can I Deal With My Asthma? Asthma is more common these days than it used to be. The good news is it's also a lot easier to manage and control.|
|What's an Asthma Flare-Up? An asthma flare-up (or attack) can cause coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, and trouble breathing. Sometimes, symptoms can be severe. Find out what causes flare-ups and what you can do in this article.|
|Dealing With an Asthma Flare-Up Asthma flare-ups, or attacks, can be handled, but it's even better if you can prevent them from happening. Find out how to deal with flare-ups.|
|Asthma-Safe Homes You want to feel good in your own home, right? If you have asthma, you can take steps to remove or minimize triggers at home that cause breathing problems and asthma flare-ups.|
|What's an Asthma Action Plan? An asthma action plan, or management plan, is a written plan that helps you take control of your asthma. Get the details in this article.|
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