Measuring your airways with a Peak Flow Meter
A peak flow meter gives an idea of how narrow your airways are by measuring the maximum (or peak) rate at which you can blow air into it. Peak flow helps you see how much your airways are changing, but is not the recommended test to identify asthma.
If you use asthma medications every day your doctor may advise you to use a peak flow meter to help you check your asthma at home. Generally children over the age of 7 are able to learn how to use a peak flow meter correctly.
Peak flow measurement is most often used as part of a Written Asthma Action Plan, developed with your doctor, to help you recognise:
- when your asthma is getting worse, or
- when you may need to increase your medication
It is important to find your ‘best’ score by recording your peak flow scores every day for one to two weeks when you are well. This score can then be used as a guide for you and your doctor to adjust your asthma management. When your asthma is not as well controlled your peak flow score will be less than your ‘best’.
How to use a peak flow meter
Your doctor, or pharmacist or asthma educator, will show you how to use your peak flow meter correctly.
These are the key steps to using the meter:
- Stand up
- Hold the peak flow meter level, so that the indicator faces upwards. Make sure the indicator is on zero or ‘start’
- Take in as deep a breath as possible
- Place your lips tightly around the mouthpiece and blow as hard and fast as you can
- Check your score on the meter
- Repeat steps 1-5 two more times
- Record the highest score out of the three scores
If your airways are narrower than usual, the peak flow meter will have a lower score than your ‘best’. When your airways are wide open, the score will be at or close to your ‘best’. What each person should score depends on their height, age and sex and so will vary from person to person.
Always use the same peak flow meter for each measurement as readings may vary between different peak flow meters. It is a good idea to take your own peak flow meter with you when you visit your doctor.
Other times you may need to use a peak flow meter
A peak flow meter may be useful in monitoring any change in your asthma when
- You leave hospital.
- You need to take your blue reliever puffer more often
- You are getting a cold or you don't feel as well as usual
- You have been near a known trigger
- Your medication is changed or new medication is started
- You are waking at night with your asthma (a sign of poorly controlled asthma)
Allergy Control can be “on the nose”
Get the most out of your nasal spray
If you take any type of nasal spray, read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and follow the directions to make sure you get the most benefit. Ask your pharmacist or doctor to explain anything you don’t understand.
Most nasal spray devices include these steps:
- Clear any mucus from your nose by blowing gently
- Tilt head slightly forward. (This helps make sure the spray lands where it will work best, instead of running down the back of your throat.)
- Put the nozzle into your nostril, and don’t push it right up into the nose
- Point the nozzle towards the outside of the nostril … never towards the middle. Avoid touching the wall between the nostrils, because it can be damaged
- Breathe in gently while you spray, to let the mist fall onto the inside of your nose. (All spray devices are different, so follow the manufacturer’s instructions). Do not sniff sharply because this will make most of the spray go down your throat or windpipe instead of staying in the nose where it can work best
- Breathe out through your mouth
Antihistamine nasal sprays (available over the counter) can provide quick relief of itching and sneezing. They can be used as well as a corticosteroid nasal spray.
Decongestant nasal sprays and tablets are used to unblock the nose. These should never be taken for more than a few days at a time.
Saline irrigations: Your doctor may recommend that you use a salt water (saline) solution daily to help clear your nose and soothe the lining of the nose. Various types are available from pharmacies.
Other medications may be prescribed by your doctor or suggested by your pharmacist.
Before taking any medication for allergic rhinitis, you should tell your doctor or pharmacist if:
- you have any other medical conditions or are pregnant
- you are taking other medications (including over-the counter, complementary medicines or food supplements)
- you have been experiencing nose bleeds
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