At Home Tests for Asthma Control

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional
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The CDC reports that more than 25 million people have the respiratory condition known as asthma.Sometimes it can be difficult to know when to talk with your doctor about your asthma symptoms, but delaying treatment can be deadly. If you have asthma or are a caregiver for someone with asthma, these at home signs can help you know when to seek help.

Pulse Oximetery

Pulse Oximetery is used to determine whether airway issues are affecting the amount of oxygen in the blood. It’s a very simple test in which a painless probe is clipped to a finger or earlobe. The light emitted measures the oxygen in the blood and the percentage given helps the physician determine whether a patient needs more oxygen. Talk to your physician about what percentage might require an office visit. We call our pediatrician for anything below 95 percent. In this image, our meter shows oxygen saturation on the left and pulse rate on the right.

Respiration rate

Respiration Rate is the number of breaths a person takes per minute. This number should be counted while the person is at rest. Normal rates for an adult are 12-16 breaths per minute. Toddlers should have 20-40 breaths per minute and newborns should take 30-60 breaths per minute. If your respiration rate or the rate of the person you are caring for is out of the normal range, you should contact your physician.

Pulse rate

Pulse Rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute. Count your pulse for 60 seconds (or for 15 seconds and then multiply by four) to calculate beats per minute. High pulse rates in adults -- more than 110 beats per minute at rest -- could indicate that an asthmatic is having breathing issues. Talk with your child’s pediatrician to determine normal rates for your child.

Peak flow meters

Peak Flow meters are often used in moderate-to-severe asthma to help manage the condition. A patient blows into the device when breathing well to determine that person’s maximum peak flow number. Measuring these results over time and observing the changes can be key in catching any issues with asthma control. If the peak flow drops below a certain percentage of the maximum number -- as determined by your asthma action plan -- the doctor should be notified.

Physical signs

Physical signs of breathing issues at home can also include bluish tint to the lips or fingers (known as cyanosis), nostril flaring, noisy breathing, cough, wheeze, clammy skin or retractions (pulling in of the chest around the ribs or collar bone).

When it goes beyond “at home”

These tips should never be used in the place of your physician’s advice. Please seek immediate care or dial 911 at any signs of breathing distress.