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PEF - peak expiratory flow

Expiratory peak flow (PEF) is the maximum flow generated during expiration performed with maximal force and started after a full inspiration (ref. 1). PEF is appreciably larger if the maneuver is performed without pause immediately after the inspiration than if it is performed after a pause (ref. 2). Contrary to popular belief PEF is not effort dependent: if the maneuver is performed sufficiently forcefully in most subjects PEF is determined by flow limitation in central, possibly also in more peripheral airways (ref. 3).

The original peak flow meter was not accurately calibrated, with an over-reading in the middle of the range, but errors vary over the range of the meters (ref. 7). This has bearing on measurements of within-day variation in patients with asthma, a criterion used for diagnostic purposes and in the management of asthma. Therefore, the European Commission adopted a standard (EN 13826) for these meters in 2004. As all member countries of the European must implement the standard before 2005, it is best to complete the change to the meters with the new scale (with a CE mark) in 2005, as this will lead to more consistent management of asthma and avoid confusion arising from the use of meters with the old and new scale. Also do record PEF readings with respect to the scale they were obtained with.
Predicted values for PEF have been obtained with meters with the 'old' scale. The most popular ones were those published by Nunn and Gregg, and these can be converted to the new scale.

Ref. 1 - Definition of peak expiratory flow
  Quanjer PH, Lebowitz MD, Gregg I, Miller MR, Pedersen OF. Peak expiratory flow. Conclusions and recommendations of a working party of the European Respiratory Society. Eur Respir J 1997; 10 suppl 24: 2S-8S.
Ref. 2 - Larger PEF without a pause at TLC
1 D’Angelo E, Prandi E, Marazzini L, Milic-Emili J. Dependence of maximal flow-volume curve on time course of preceding inspiration in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 1994; 150: 1581-1586.
2 Kano S, Burton DL, Lanteri CJ, Sly PD. Determination of peak expiratory flow. Eur Respir J 1993; 6: 1347-1352.
Ref. 3 - PEF is effort independent
  Pedersen OF, Brackel HJL, Bogaard JM, Kerrebijn KF. Wave-speed-determined flow limitatio at peak flow in normal and asthmatic subjects. J Appl Physiol 1997; 83: 1721-1732.
Ref. 4 - Variability in PEF
1 Quackenboss JJ, Lebowitz MD, Krzyzanowski M. The normal range of diurnal changes inpeak expiratory flow rates: relationship to symptoms and respiratory disease. Am Rev Respir Dis 1991; 143: 323-330.
2 Higgins BG, Britton JR, Chinn S, Jones TD, Jenkinson D, Burney PGJ, Tattersfield AE. The distribution of peak expiratory flow variability in a population sample. Am Rev Respir Dis 1989; 140: 1368-1372.
3 Brouwer AFJ, R.J. Roorda RJ, Brand PLP. Home spirometry and asthma severity in children. Eur Respir J 2006; 28: 1131–1137.
Ref. 5 - Increased PEF due to dynamic airway compression
1 Tammeling GJ, Berg WC, Sluiter HJ. Estimation of the extrathoracic collapse of the intrathoracic airways. A comparative study of the value of forced expirogram and flow-volume curves in health and in obstructive lung disease. Am Rev Respir Dis 1969; 93: 238-250.
2 Knudson RH, Mead J, Knudson DE. Contribution of airway collapse to supramaximal expiratory flows. J Appl Physiol 1974; 36: 643-667.
Ref. 6 - PEF and bronchodilatation
1 Dekker FW, Schrier AC, Sterk PJ, Dijkman JH. Validity of peak expiratory flow measurement in assessing reversibility of airflow obstruction. Thorax 1992; 47: 162-166.
2 Thiadens HA, de Bock GH, van Houwelingen JC, Dekker FW, de Waal MWM, Springer MP, Postma DS. Can peak expiratory flow measurements reliably identify the presence of obstruction and bronchodilator response as assessed by FEV1 in primary care patients presenting with a persistent cough? Thorax 1999; 54: 1055-1060.
Ref. 7 - Use of peak expiratory flow meters and problem of scales
1 Miller, MR.
2 Miller MR. Peak expiratory flow meter scale changes: implications for patients and health professionals. Airways J 2004; 2: 80-82.
Ref. 8 - Use of peak expiratory flow meters to exclude severe airway obstruction
1 Perez-Padilla R, Vollmer WM, Vázquez-García JC, Enright PL, Menezes AMB, Buist AS. Can a normal peak expiratory flow exclude severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease? Ibnt J Tuberc Lung Dis 2009; 13: 387-393.

Recommended procedures

  1. Quanjer PhH, Tammeling GJ, Cotes JE, Pedersen OF, Peslin R, Yernault JC. Lung volumes and forced ventilatory flows. Official Statement of the European Respiratory Society. Eur Respir J 1993; 6 suppl. 16: 5-40. Erratum Eur Respir J 1995; 8: 1629.
  2. American Thoracic Society. Standardization of spirometry: 1994 update. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 1995; 152: 1107-1136.
  3. Quanjer PH, Lebowitz MD, Gregg I, Miller MR, Pedersen OF. Peak expiratory flow. Conclusions and recommendations of a working party of the European Respiratory Society. Eur Respir J 1997; 10 suppl 24: 2S-8S.
  4. Miller MR et al. Standardisation of spirometry. ATS/ERS task force: standardisation of lung function testing. Eur Respir J 2005; 26: 319-338.
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