If you have asthma, there are a few basic items that you should be using to ward off any breathing difficulties. From measuring your airflow regularly to administering short-term or long-acting medications, you'll need a small arsenal of tools to keep you healthy.

Here's what should be in your repertoire:

Peak Flow Meter

This instrument can be invaluable in telling you what's going on with your airflow. The device, which looks like a large inhaler with a laboratory tube at the end, is handheld and easily portable. Although it doesn't provide as much information as the breathing tests you do at your doctor's office, it does give you an objective measure by which to track your asthma.

How does a peak flow meter work? You stand up, blow hard into it three times and, taking your best effort, it measures how much air is flowing out of your lungs (your peak expiratory flow rate). Based on your already established personal best peak flow measurement, or the amount of air that comes out of your lungs when they are functioning optimally, you can determine how well you're controlling your asthma in general, whether your treatment is working while you're having an attack, and even whether you're on the precipice of an attack—as soon as you start coughing or develop other cold symptoms, start measuring your peak flow to see how it compares to your personal best peak flow measurement. Also, by paying attention to your peak flow measurements over time, you may be able to discern patterns that help you predict or even head off attacks.

Peak flow meters borrow from traffic lights when it comes to alerting you to possible danger. After you breathe into the device, your measurement falls into either the green, yellow, or red zones. A reading in the green zone (80 percent to 100 percent of your personal best peak flow measurement) means your airflow is normal or close to normal and there is no need for medication. If your reading is in the yellow zone (50 to 79 percent of your personal best peak flow measurement), contact your doctor. You may need to take some medication to keep your asthma under control. If your reading is in the red zone (less than 50 percent of your personal best peak flow measurement), your asthma is not being controlled and you may need immediate medical attention.


A metered-dose inhaler is one way to deliver asthma medications. It can dispense corticosteroids, which are anti-inflammatory medications designed to be taken on a regular basis, as well as bronchodilators, which act to temporarily dilate the airways during asthmatic episodes. Your doctor will demonstrate how to administer the medication properly with the inhaler. Typically, it's held in your hand and you push down on the inhaler as you breath the medication. Metered-dose inhalers often are used with spacers—holding chambers attached to the inhaler that enable more medication to be delivered directly into the lungs. An alternative to a metered-dose inhaler is a dry powder inhaler, which doesn't rely on a chemical propellant to deliver the medication or a spacer to keep the medication from dispersing in the air. Users must take a deep, fast breath in order to get the full dose.


A nebulizer allows asthma medication to reach the lungs by turning it into a fine, breathable mist, making it a good choice for administering inhaled steroids to babies and young children who are not coordinated enough to use an inhaler most effectively.

For older children and adults, nebulizers are most often used to deliver bronchodilators, which act to open up the airways. Nebulizers can be portable, but rely on a power source in order to work.

Andy Nish, MD, reviewed this article.


American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. "Peak Flow Meter: Tips toRemember." Accessed 7 January 2014. http://www.aaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/at-a-glance/peak-flow-meter.aspx