Peak flow measurement is a quick test to measure air flowing out of the lungs. The measurement is also called the peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) or the peak expiratory flow (PEF). Peak flow measurement is mostly done by people who have asthma.
Peak flow measurement can show the amount and rate of air that can be forcefully breathed out of the lungs. The measurement should be started after a full lung inhalation.
During the test, you blow forcefully into the mouthpiece of a device. A peak flow meter (PFM) is used most often. This is a small handheld device made of plastic. A PFM is small and light enough to be used almost anywhere. It’s important to use the same PFM on a regular basis. The readings can vary between brands and types of meters. In some cases, the test is done in a healthcare provider's office or a hospital with a spirometer. This device has a handheld mouth piece that’s attached by cord to a larger electronic machine.
An important part of peak flow measurement is noting peak flow zones. Peak flow zones are areas of measurement on a peak flow meter. The goal of the peak flow zones is to show early symptoms of uncontrolled asthma. Peak flow zones are set differently for each person. Your healthcare provider will help determine your peak flow zones. The 3 peak flow zones are noted by color and include:
Peak flow measurement using a peak flow meter is useful for people with asthma. During an asthma flare-up, the large airways in the lungs slowly begin to narrow. This slows the speed of air moving through the lungs. A peak flow meter can help show the narrowing of the airways well before an asthma attack happens. A peak flow meter can help you determine:
A peak flow meter can help you manage asthma. It can give you and your healthcare provider information about how open the airways are in your lungs. The PFM can detect small changes in the large airways before you start to wheeze. Using a PFM every day will let you know when your peak flows are starting to drop. This allows you to make early changes in your medicine or routine to help keep asthma symptoms from getting worse. The PFM can also identify the reading at which you need to call your healthcare provider or go to the emergency room.
Your healthcare provider may not advise you use a PFM unless your asthma is moderate or severe and you are managing it with medicine. PFM can also be used to assess other lung problems, such as:
All procedures have some risks. The risks of this procedure may include:
Certain factors may interfere with the accuracy of peak flow measurement, such as:
Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you. Ask him or her any questions you have. You may be asked to sign a consent form that gives permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully. Ask questions if anything is not clear.
Tell your healthcare provider if you take any medicines. This includes prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.
Make sure to:
Before starting daily peak flow meter measuring, your healthcare provider may have you follow a detailed schedule over 2 to 3 weeks. This is done to find your “personal best” peak flow measurement. This value will be used as a baseline for your daily measurements.
Peak flow measurement is done 1 or more times daily at the same time of day, or whenever you are having early signs of an asthma attack. Or you should use it when directed by your healthcare provider. Use the peak flow meter (PFM) before taking asthma medicine. Your healthcare provider may advise other times when using a PFM is useful.
In most cases, peak flow measurement follows this process:
Note which peak flow zone your measurement falls into. Follow the instructions below:
Your healthcare provider may give you more instructions about what to do for each peak flow zone.