Know how to use a peak flow meter to monitor & manage asthma Know how to use a peak flow meter to monitor & manage asthma

Ever been to the doctors and they’ve asked you to blow into a funny little tube with numbers along the side? This is a peak flow meter, and a peak flow meter is a necessity for asthmatics. In summary, it’s a device measures how quickly you are able to expel air from your lungs by blowing as hard as you can into this small, handheld device. These can be bought from pharmacies for home use or can be available via prescription as well. Want to know the importance of a peak flow meter? Let’s start from the basics…

What is asthma?

Asthma is a respiratory condition in the lungs that can cause breathing difficulties. It can begin in early childhood and be carried on through to adulthood or even developed for the first time as an adult. Asthma can be recognized through the sufferer wheezing when they breathe, breathlessness and a tight chest. When these symptoms get significantly worse to the point where you are unable to breathe, this is known as an asthma attack, and is dealt with by taking the inhaler that has been prescribed to you by your doctor.

Though there isn’t a cure for asthma, the main types of treatments which are taken orally are reliever inhalers, which is a short term, quick fix for relieving asthma symptoms. There are three different types of reliever inhalers. The first is a metered dose inhalers (MDIs) which is medicine given in an aerosol form which is your standard inhalers such as Ventolin, Airomir and Salamol. These are usually used with a spacer, such as an Aerochamber, for example. Then you have breath actuated inhalers (BAIs) which automatically dispense a spray of medicine when you begin to inhale, for example, Easi-breathe and Autohalers are BAIs. Finally, there are dry powder inhalers (DPIs) that release the medicine in a dry powder form, like Accuhalers and Turbohalers.

There are also preventer inhalers, which should be used daily to prevent asthma symptoms from occurring. The most common types of preventer inhalers are Clenil, Qvar, Flixotide and Pulmicort.

There can be certain asthma tablets as well, which are all available through prescription only.

Why is Peak Flow measured?

Peak flow is measured to help doctors diagnose and identify the seriousness of an individual’s asthma. Depending on how fast you are able to breathe out, the peak flow score will indicate to your doctor whether you airways are narrowed. This, alongside a spirometry, will allow a confirmation of their diagnosis of asthma. As well as helping the diagnoses stage, it can also help to keep an eye on your condition and the severity of it by doing regular peak flow measurements. If your number begins to lower on the peak flow meter scale, then this may indicate that your medication is not working as efficiently as it used to, or even whether you’re having an asthma attack. It can also help to identify asthma triggers when you measure your peak flow before and after you have been exposed to certain stimuli.

How do you measure your peak flow for asthma?

A doctor or nurse will always introduce you and guide you with your first time using a peak flow meter. It is advised that you should then conduct and record regular peak flow readings with your own peak flow meter at home to keep an eye on your asthma.

In order to measure your peak flow score, please do the following: 

  • Make sure you are in a comfortable position (i.e. sitting or standing) and ensure this is the same position you use each time.
  • Push the small pointer back to the first line of scale which is closest to the mouthpiece.
  • Make sure that the peak flow meter is level and not obstructed by anything.
  • Then breathe as deeply as you can and breathe out as quickly and as hard as possible.

Once you have finished exhaling, record the score on your diary or asthma chart.

This should be done 3 times and the highest of the 3 measurements should be your official peak flow score.

What does your peak flow score mean?

Your peak flow score can also be called your peak expiratory flow (PEF) and the unit of measurement on the peak flow meter is l/min, or litres of air breathed out per minute. Your PEF reading is affected by many factors such as age, height and sex. There are average readings for each category, and to help diagnose asthma, your score should be relatively different or poorer than what is expected of someone with your characteristics.

What do I do if my peak flow score is low?

If your peak flow score is low, it may be a matter of just using your inhaler to relieve asthmatic symptoms. Or, if it is a more drastic drop – then you may have to seek medical assistance as soon as you can. You’ll have an asthma action plan given from your GP or nurse that will indicate what actions to take when your peak expiratory flow score drops to a certain level. Your asthma action plan has to be reviewed at least once a year by your GP or asthma nurse to ensure that your readings are accurate and to see whether or not you need a change of medicine or a new asthma plan altogether. 

Where can I find asthma treatment?

You can order all kinds of asthma treatment in the UK from Pharmacy Planet. Fill in a short and easy clinical consultation questionnaire, and your order will be processed and sent to our clinical team and dispensing team to sort out the rest!