Peak Flow and Spirometry Testing

Lots of different tests are used to help diagnose and monitor asthma and there are many different types of tests that your GP, asthma nurse or asthma specialist might carry out to help work out whether you or your child has asthma.

These include Peak Flow and Spirometry Testing
(Click on either to the left to view more information)
These tests help to show if your airways are narrow or inflamed, and how your lungs might respond to medicine. But it’s important to remember that if you get tested and your results come back normal, this doesn’t rule out a possible diagnosis of asthma. It could just mean that your airways are not as narrowed or inflamed when you get tested. Because asthma symptoms can vary over time, you may need to take these tests more than once to help your GP make the right diagnosis.
Your GP, asthma nurse or consultant will explain which tests are suitable for you or your child (tests for asthma are usually offered to children aged five and above).

Peak Flow

A peak flow meter is a small device with a measuring gauge which records how fast you can blow air out of your lungs. It provides an indication of the health of your airways.
It is useful for asthmatics to use peak flow in order to:
  • Help monitor the severity of your condition
  • Assess how well your asthma medications are working
  • Assist with self management and developing a self management plan.
Peak flow measurements also provide valuable information to your health provider when used in conjunction with other assessment tools:
  • Help with diagnosis where asthma is uncertain
  • Helps assess responses to changes in asthma therapy
  • Assists identifying triggers
  • Helps determine patterns of asthma over time
What do peak flow readings tell us?

How fast and how forcefully you can blow air out of your lungs depends on the state of the airways. When you are well, your airways are open and clear and therefore your peak flow reading will be high. However, during a period of asthma flare-up, your airways are constricted, tight and may be filled with mucus. Your peak flow reading will therefore fall.
When should I use a peak flow meter?

Your doctor may ask you to keep a symptom diary in order to monitor your asthma. Your doctor will advise you on when to take your peak flow and how to record your findings. Your doctor will use these results to assess the effectiveness of your medication and may make adjustments to it accordingly.
Peak flow meters should be used when
  • You have a runny nose or feel a cold coming on
  • You just don't feel as well as usual
  • You know you've been exposed to one of your asthma triggers (e.g. something that makes asthma worse)
  • Your treatment has been changed
  • You have been using your reliever more than usual
  • You are waking at night or early morning with asthma symptoms
What is a normal peak flow reading?

Your doctor, practice nurse or asthma nurse will work out what your peak flow reading should be, based on your height, age and gender.
How to use a peak flow meter
  • Stand if possible, otherwise sitting is fine
  • Ensure you slide the marker on the measuring gauge all the way to the start (the mouthpiece end)
  • Hold the meter level and ensure your fingers don't obstruct the slider
  • Take in a big deep breath using your whole chest
  • Place the meter in your mouth, close your lips tightly around the mouthpiece, keeping the tongue away from the mouthpiece
  • Blow out as hard and as fast as you can (huff) ensuring you don't use a cough to complete the manoeuvre
  • Record the reading then repeat the process again, recording the highest of the three readings in your peak flow diary.
Cleaning your peak flow meter

Follow the manufacturer's instructions. Clean every few weeks when in use. Wash with soapy water, rinsing and shaking dry.

Spirometry Testing

Spirometry testing is a valuable tool used to diagnose certain lung conditions. It is often required for pre-employment screening into certain professions, such as the forces and scuba diving.

It is a test best performed sitting. A mouthpiece is attached to a computer which measures on a graph how much and how fast the patient can move air out of their lungs. After a few gentle breaths in and out through the mouthpiece, you will be asked to take a deep breath and then blast the air out hard as you can for as long as you can, continuing exhaling through the mouthpiece for 6 seconds.

The test is repeated three times. It isn't a difficult test but can make you feel a little puffed.

What is involved in a spirometry test?

Spirometry - What is it and what is it for?

Spirometry is a primer for decision makers in respiratory care. Just as hypertension cannot be diagnosed without measuring blood pressure, lung problems should not be diagnosed without spirometry testing. Spirometry is a valuable tool to evaluate any unexplained breathlessness/wheeze, abnormal chest x-ray, query of effect of medication or simply as a follow up for asthma or COPD, or to diagnose, screen or monitor lung disease.

Kiwis of all ages are dying from asthma each year!

You can help save their lives by supporting us to educate and prevent this happening...
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