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Know Your Asthma Numbers!

Seven Common "Numbers" to Measure Asthma Control:

Asthma Numbers Patients Can Measure:
1.  Number of Rescue Puffs
2.  Number of Nighttime Symptoms
3.  Number of Daytime Symptoms
4.  Peak Flow Score

Asthma Numbers a Doctor or Specialist Can Measure:
5.  FEV (Forced Expiratory Volume)
6.  Allergic Triggers (via skin test, IgE-specific lab test)
7.  IgE or Immunoglobulin E (via IgE blood test)

If you have asthma, you should speak to a specialist if:

  • You use your rescue puffer more than two times a week
  • You suffer from nighttime awakening
  • You experience daytime symptoms at least one time every day
  • Your peak flow score is less than 80 percent
  • You have a low FEV amount
  • You don't know your IgE measure

1. What's Your Rescue Puffer Use?
If you have asthma you should keep track of the number of times you need to use your inhaler.  If you need your quick-relief "rescue" inhaler more than twice a week, your asthma may not be under control. You may need to see your doctor and discuss a change in treatment to reduce your reliance on the rescue inhaler. Measure your peak flow after taking a puff. If your peak flow does not improve with the rescue puff, see a doctor as soon as possible. 

2. What's Your Sleep Like?
If you have asthma you should also keep track of the number of times you awake during the night or can't get to sleep due to asthma symptoms. Current clinical guidelines for management of patients with asthma suggest that nighttime awakenings more than once a week due to asthma indicate poor asthma control. 

3. What's Your Day Like?
If you have asthma you should also keep track of the number of times you are bothered by symptoms during the day. Current clinical guidelines for management of patients with asthma suggest if you are experiencing asthma symptoms during the daytime at least once every day, your asthma is not in control. This is another sign that you need to work with your doctor to improve your overall asthma management plan.

4. What's Your Peak Flow?
A peak flow meter measures the "peak expiratory flow" (PEF) or the "strength" of your breaths every day - on good days and bad days. Find your "personal best" peak flow score by giving your meter a strong puff on a good day when your asthma is under control, and update your personal best score every two weeks. But also use your peak flow meter when your breathing feels weak.  If your peak flow is less than 80 percent of your personal best score, or if it changes a lot from day to day, your asthma is not under control. 

5. What's Your FEV?
This lung function test, done in your doctor's office with a machine called a spirometer, measures the "forced expiratory volume" (FEV) or the amount of the air you breathe out. The higher the volume of air you breathe out, the better your lungs are functioning.  When measured at several times over a year or more, FEV helps your doctor see if you are making long-term progress with your overall asthma treatment.

6. What are your Allergy Triggers?
There are two ways to test whether you are allergic to specific allergens (e.g., pollen, mold spores, dust mites, pet dander and cockroaches). One way is skin testing, which consists of introducing small amounts of allergens into the skin and seeing if you develop a local reaction. The other is a blood test in which a physician may collect a blood sample to test for specific antibodies for allergens, similarly to how they test for total IgE measures. 

7. What's Your IgE?
Approximately 60 percent of asthma sufferers have "allergic asthma." IgE screening involves a simple blood test to measure the level of the antibody Immunoglobulin E (IgE) in your blood. If you have asthma and elevated IgE in your bloodstream you may have allergic asthma. People with allergic asthma who are on asthma medications, yet still experiencing symptoms, should talk to an asthma specialist about getting an IgE test.

© Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
www.aafa.org 1-800-7-ASTHMA