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Clinical Investigations: TECHNIQUES |

Can Peak Expiratory Flow Measurements Estimate Small Airway Function in Asthmatic Children?*

Shmuel Goldberg, MD; Chaim Springer, MD; Avraham Avital, MD; Simon Godfrey, MD, PhD; Ephraim Bar-Yishay, PhD
Author and Funding Information

*From the Institute of Pulmonology, Hadassah University Hospital, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel.

Correspondence to: Ephraim Bar-Yishay, PhD, Institute of Pulmonology, Hadassah University Hospital, PO Box 12000, Jerusalem, Israel 91120; e-mail: EPHRAIMB@CC.HUJI.AC.IL



Chest. 2001;120(2):482-488. doi:10.1378/chest.120.2.482
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Background: Asthma is characterized in part by small airways dysfunction. Peak expiratory flow (PEF) measurement has been suggested by all international guidelines as an important tool in asthma management. The correlation between PEF and FEV1 but not with forced expired flow at 50% of vital capacity (FEF50) is well-established.

Study objective: To determine the value of PEF measurement as a predictor of small airways status as expressed by FEF50.

Design: Analysis of the association between PEF and FEF50 in single and multiple determinations.

Patients: One hundred eleven asthmatic children (mean age, 11.8 years), grouped in the following way according to FEV1 values: within normal range (n = 46); mildly reduced FEV1 (n = 44); and moderately/severely reduced FEV1 (n = 21).

Results: Overall, FEF50 and PEF were significantly correlated (r = 0.49; p < 0.0001). However, in 41.6% of the patients, the actual FEF50 differed by > 20% from the calculated FEF50. PEF has a high specificity (82.4%) but a poor sensitivity (51.7%) to detect FEF50 status. PEF was better able to reflect abnormal FEF50 in the patients with more severe asthma and to reflect normal FEF50 values in the healthier patients. In patients with multiple measurements (n = 40), the correlation between FEF50 and PEF was significantly better than that derived from a single determination (multiple measurements r = 0.77; single measurement, r = 0.49).

Conclusions: Although PEF is an important tool in the management of asthmatic patients, it does not yield a complete picture because it is not sensitive in detecting small airways function. It is best used at home along with regular spirometry measurements at the clinic. PEF may serve as a better index of changes in small airways function once an individual regression is determined.

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