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Peak expiratory flow rate

Alternative Names: Peak flow

The peak expiratory flow rate measures how fast a person can breathe out (exhale) air. It is one of many tests that measures how well the lungs are working.

Why is the Test Performed?

The test is commonly used to diagnose and monitor lung diseases such as:

Home monitoring can help determine whether treatments are working or detect when your condition is getting worse.

How is the Test Performed?

This test requires a peak expiratory flow monitor: a small handheld device with a mouthpiece at one end and a scale with a moveable indicator (usually a small plastic arrow).

To perform this test:

  • Breathe in as deeply as possible.
  • Blow into the instrument's mouthpiece as hard and fast as possible.
  • Do this three times, and record the highest flow rate.

Preparation for the Test

Loosen any tight clothing that might restrict your breathing. Sit up straight or stand while performing the tests.

How will the Test Feel?

There is usually no discomfort. Rarely, repeated efforts may cause some light-headedness.

Peak expiratory flow rate Risks

There are no significant risks.

Considerations

Peak expiratory flow rate measurements are not as accurate as the spirometry measurements performed in a health care provider's office. Small changes in your peak flow may not mean significant changes in your lung function.

Normal Results for Peak expiratory flow rate

Normal values vary based on a person's age, sex, and size. Peak flow measurements are most useful when a person compares the number on a given day to his or her "personal best."

A fall in peak flow can signal the onset of a lung disease flare, especially when it occurs with symptoms such as:

  • Increased cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing

Early treatment may be needed to prevent complications.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Peak air flow during exhalation decreases when the airways are blocked (obstructed).

Many patients can use peak expiratory flow monitoring to monitor their lung function at home. This can be very helpful, especially in asthma patients whose peak flow reading sometimes gets low before they develop breathing symptoms. If the fall in peak flow is treated early, symptoms can be avoided.

If you note that your peak flow is decreasing, tell your health care provider.

Review Date: 10/14/2009
Reviewed By: Andrew Schriber, MD, FCCP, Specialist in Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, Virtua Memorial Hospital, Mount Holly, New Jersey. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
Do not use this information for medical emergencies - Call 911. This information should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical practitioner should always be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other websites do not constitute endorsements and are provided for information only. Any duplication or distribution of this information is strictly prohibited.
Copyright 2014 A.D.A.M., Inc.
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