Asthma Chores – Staying in ‘Peak’ Condition
I was mentally reviewing how often I have to do asthma ’chores’ a day. I have to suck on my preventive inhaler twice, two times a day and blow on my peak flow meter 3 times, twice a day. That’s 10 times. If I’m flaring and have to take my rescue inhaler, it’s even more often. Any asthmatic will tell you, having asthma can really suck and blow!
There are ways to monitor your asthma to help keep you well though, like the peak flow meter. In case you’re wondering what the heck a peak flow meter is, here is mine:
A peak flow meter a small hand-held device with a little slider and numbers on the side that you blow into as hard as you can, that measures airflow. You do this 3 times, recording the highest number without averaging. The number the slider stops on is your Peak Expiratory Flow rate number, or PF for short. I never even knew about peak flow meters, until I was feeling really lousy and kept coming across it on websites like The Asthma Society of Canada. I find it useful because it helps me decide when I need to increase my medications, sometimes even showing when a problem is beginning before I can feel it. It also lets me know when I should see my doctor if my medications aren’t working as well as they should.
Preventative inhalers, like the Symbicort that I take, contain corticosteroids that help reduce inflammation and strengthen lungs.
In asthma the bronchi inflames and constricts, reducing airflow, resulting in a lower peak flow number. Although there are charts out there saying what your PF should be according to your height and age, your personal best number is usually more important. This is the highest number you can reach when healthy, usually after charting for a week or two. If I was to follow the recommended charts, I would already be in yellow zone.
Bronchodilators or ‘rescue inhalers’ such as my Ventolin above, work to relax and ease constriction in the bronchi. Holding chambers like my Aerochamber help to get more medicine in my lungs instead of my mouth.
Asthmatics have “zones” they use to keep track of how they are doing. They are set up just like a traffic light.
Green zone. 80-100% of your personal best. You have no symptoms, you feel good, and can be active and go about your usual activities. This is ideally where you want to be.
Yellow zone. PF 80%-60% (or 50%*) of your personal best. This is the caution zone. You might be feeling symptoms like coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath. You can’t do all your normal activities and may be waking up at night with symptoms. Start taking your rescue inhaler, and possibly increase your preventative inhaler depending on your action plan formed with your doctor. If medications don’t help, see your doctor.
Red zone. PF under 60% (or 50%*). Symptoms are severe and requires emergency care. Follow your action plan. Continue taking your rescuer medication and go to hospital or call an ambulance.
*There is a difference in opinion on how low is red zone, talk to your doctor about which percentage is right for you
This is my peak flow chart for the last month, you can see the yellow dips.
As my friend Kerri at Hold Your Breath to Breathe reminds me, “listen to the symptoms before the meter”. Sometimes, you feel lousy, you’re having symptoms, you check your meter, and its green zone. Huh? I’ve had it happen a few times. So I figured, well its green I guess I’m alright. Almost always it was in the process of dropping. The meter isn’t the be all and end all. If you’re having problems breathing, take your rescuer. If you’re feeling really horrible or meds aren’t helping, get yourself to your doctor or the hospital.
I’ve never been red zone thankfully, although before I was put on regular medications I was close. There were nights then I probably should have gone to an ER, but since I hate hospitals I avoided it. I know, not that smart of a decision!
I decided to write this post as I’ve been having a problem with flaring off and on lately. I just called the pharmacy to refill my rescue inhaler only to be told all the name brand Ventolin was used up over the weekend(that’s the blue puffer you have probably seen before). Thank you smog and high humidity. The only generic Ventolin I can find here now is Apo-Salvent and I hate it. It has a horrible aftertaste and I find it doesn’t work as fast or as well. Doctors might disagree but its been my experience. Hopefully they will have it in tomorrow!
And although it probably doesn’t need reminding, I am not a doctor, so if you are unsure about your asthma treatment or symptoms, please see your doctor!