Learning to Live with Asthma

If you’ve just been diagnosed with asthma, you may feel a little discouraged. But you should know that with proper management and medication, most people with asthma live perfectly normal, active lives.

Find out what your triggers are. Ask your doctor about the common asthma triggers. Your doctor will give you lots of useful advice, and possibly refer you to a specialist or an asthma educator. An allergy assessment may be useful to determine your ‘allergic triggers.’ To find out what ‘non-allergic triggers’ you have, you may be asked to keep a diary of your symptoms.

Once you have a clear idea what things are making your asthma worse, you can learn how to avoid them. Avoiding triggers that are under your control will help you be better prepared to deal with the triggers that are more difficult to avoid, like pollen, smog and viruses.

To achieve and maintain total asthma control, you will need to avoid your triggers and take a controller medication. If your doctor prescribes medication, take the time to learn what it does and how to take it properly.

In addition, your doctor may:

  • Suggest you use a peak flow meter to monitor your lung function. This allows you to note any changes that might mean your asthma is not being controlled properly.
  • Suggest you keep a diary of the results of your peak flow monitor tests and your symptoms so that you and your doctor can use it to create a personalized Asthma Action Plan.

Peak Flow Monitoring at Home

To monitor how well your asthma is controlled, your doctor may suggest you use a peak flow meter.

This simple device measures what’s called your “peak expiratory flow,” or PEF. Using it, you can:

Using a Peak Flow Meter

Using a peak flow meter is simple. Read the instructions that come with your particular model, and follow these steps:

  1. Attach the mouthpiece to the peak flow monitor.
  2. Set the marker (indicator) to the level of zero on the scale.
  3. Stand up or, if you can’t stand, sit up straight.
  4. Breathe in as deeply as you can.
  5. Close your lips around the mouthpiece.
  6. Blow out as hard and as fast as you can. (i.e., A “fast blast” of air)
  7. Note the number next to the marker.
  8. Repeat steps 2 through 7 two more times.
  9. In a notebook or diary, record the highest of the three numbers. This number is your PEF for that morning or evening.

Making Sense of Your Results

Your doctor or asthma educator will help you determine which of your PEF measurements should be used as a “baseline” – that is, your personal best peak flow. Use your peak flow result with your written Asthma Action Plan to determine the action needed to be taken to manage your asthma.

Once you know your personal best peak flow, you will be able to know if your asthma is well-controlled. If the result of a PEF test is 80 per cent or more of your personal best number, your asthma is likely well controlled.

If it is less than 80 per cent of your personal best you are not well controlled. Discuss your results with your doctor.

Remember that a peak flow meter can be a useful tool, but monitoring your symptoms is the most important way to assess overall how well your asthma is being managed.