Difficulty in Obtaining Peak Expiratory Flow Measurements in Children with Acute Asthma

Marc H. Gorelick, Molly W. Stevens, Theresa Schultz, Philip V. Scribano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To determine the frequency with which children ≥6 years with acute asthma can perform peak expiratory flow rate measurements (PEFR) in an emergency department (ED). Methods: Data were obtained from a prospective cohort study of children with acute asthma. All children (age 2-18 years old) treated in an urban pediatric ED for an acute exacerbation during randomly selected days over a 12-month period were prospectively evaluated. According to treatment protocols, PEFR was to be measured in all children age 6 years and older before therapy and after each treatment with inhaled bronchodilators. Registered respiratory therapists obtained PEFR and evaluated whether patients were able to perform the maneuver adequately. Results: Four hundred and fifty-six children, 6 to 18 years old (median 10 years), were enrolled; 291 (64%) had PEFR measured at least once. Of those in whom PEFR was attempted at least once, only 190 (65%) were able to perform adequately. At the start of therapy, 54% (142/262) were able to perform PEFR. Of the 120 who were unable to perform initially, 76 had another attempt at the end of the ED treatment, and 55 (72%) were still unable to perform. A total of 149 patients had attempts at PEFR both at the start and end of treatment, of these, only 71 (48%) provided valid information on both attempts. Patients unable to perform PEFR were younger (mean ± SD = 8.7 ± 2.8 years) than those who were able to perform successfully (11.2 ± 3.2 years) and those with no attempts (10.0 ± 3.4 years). Children admitted to the hospital were more likely to be unable to perform PEFR (58/126 = 46%) than those discharged from the ED (43/330 = 13%, P < 0.0001). Conclusion: Adequate PEFR measurements are difficult to obtain in children with acute asthma. Treatment and research protocols cannot rely exclusively on PEFR for evaluation of severity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22-26
Number of pages5
JournalPediatric emergency care
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Asthma
  • Peak expiratory flow rate
  • Pulmonary function testing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Emergency Medicine


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