Asthma - Peak Flow Meter

Oct 11 09:41 2008 Ricky Hussey Print This Article

A peak flow meter provides a good way to keep tabs on symptoms and airway conditions. This small handheld device measures how much air a child can breathe out. If her airways are starting to swell and tighten with asthma flare, the peak flow reading will drop.

 Although the peak flow meter is a valuable tool for asthma management,Guest Posting it is not for every-one. Children younger than age five or six usually can't use it. An adult should supervise the use of a peak flow meter until the child is fourteen to sixteen years old.

Peak flow meters are inexpensive and available without a prescription at any pharmacy. Ask your doctor or nurse practitioner which type is best for your child. To keep the readings consistent, stick with the same brand when you buy a new one. For younger children with smaller lung capacity, you may want to choose a low-range model instead of the regular adult kind.

Young children have lower peak flow readings than older, taller children. Because young children can't blow very hard, their numbers may barely move on an adult type of peak flow model. If they can't see their numbers moving up, young children sometimes feel discouraged about their readings. A low-range meter is not only more accurate and age appropriate for smaller children, it will also give them more positive reinforcement as they see their numbers rise.

The peak flow meter measures your child's peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR), or how much air flows out of her lungs as she breathes out forcefully. Think of it as a thermometer for the lungs. Just as a thermometer tells you if your child has a fever and how high it is, a peak flow meter tells you if her airways are starting to close down and by how much.

Learning to use the peak flow meter takes a little practice. To get an accurate reading, have your child follow these seven steps:

1. Hold the peak flow meter by the handle and set the pointer to zero. Be sure your child's fingers don't block the pointer or the hole in the back of some meters because this will give an inaccurate reading.

2. Stand up straight.

3. Take a really deep breath and fill the lungs with as much air as they will hold.

4. Put the mouthpiece in the mouth, and breathe out through the mouth as hard and fast as possible. The goal is a fast blast, not a slow blow. Make sure your child doesn't cough or spit into the meter because this will make the reading higher than it really is. Your child needs to give her best effort. If she doesn't breathe in as deep as possible and blowout as hard as possible, the reading will be lower than it should be.

5. Look at the scale on the meter to see where the pointer has stopped. Write down the number.

6. Repeat the process twice and reset the pointer to zero each time. If your child has learned how to use the meter properly, the numbers on the scale from all her tries should be fairly close together. If they're not, she probably needs to practice the technique a bit more.

7. Write down the highest number of all her tries. Don't average all the readings together. The highest number is your child's personal best peak flow for that day.

No matter how often you check peak flow readings, keep an ongoing written record of them. A simple piece of paper with the date, time of day, and peak flow reading is all you really need. If you can make a note of any other information about your child's health at the time of the reading, that's even better. If the peak flow reading is low, for example, and your child also has a cold or was visiting a friend with a cat, that information helps explain the reading. Peak flows and any other information you can provide will be very helpful to you and the doctor as a way to determine how well your child's asthma is under control. It will also help you track down asthma triggers and help your child understand why she should avoid them.

Understanding the Peak Flow Numbers

Once a child has mastered the peak flow meter, it's time to find her personal best reading. This is the number that will be her benchmark, the one you compare all other readings with in order to see if they're below normal.

To find your child's personal best reading, start on a day when she's feeling well and her asthma is under good control. Take three good readings and find the personal best number in the morning before she takes her everyday controller medicine. Repeat the process each day at the same time for two to three weeks. The best numbers from each reading should be fairly close together. If they are, take the best number over the whole period and use that as your child's personal best.

As your child grows, her personal best peak flow number should rise along with her increasing lung size. Redo the personal best readings every six months or whenever your physician or nurse practitioner recommends it to keep the number accurate and in tune with her growing size.

Every peak flow meter comes with a table that tells the normal values for that meter. In other words, the table lists what a normal reading on that particular brand of peak flow meter should be for an imaginary average child of your child's height. Don't worry if your child's personal best peak flow isn't the same as the average given by the meter manufacturer or in the table on the following page. Green, Yellow, Red Zones Doctors have used these readings to develop a color-coded peak flow zone system modeled after a traffic light similar to the one for symptom recognition. Here's how it works:

Green zone-Go! Your child is taking everyday controller medicine and doing well, with no cough, wheeze, shortness of breath, or chest tightness. He sleeps through the night and his activity is normal. His peak flow meter reading is 80 percent or more of his personal best.

Yellow zone-Caution! Your child's asthma is getting worse, even though he's been taking his everyday medicine. His airways are starting to narrow. He's coughing, wheezing, and short of breath; asthma symptoms are waking him up at night; and he's not as active as usual. An asthma flare might be starting. His peak flow meter reading is 50 percent to 80 percent of his personal best.

Red zone-Medical alert! The quick-relief medicine isn't helping, or the asthma is getting worse. Your child is having an asthma flare. He's very short of breath, wheezing and coughing a lot, and his peak flow meter reading is 50 percent or less of his personal best.

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Ricky Hussey
Ricky Hussey

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