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Peak flow and playing woodwind instruments

Just wondered if anybody else had come across this one. I'm only 5'3'', but have a best ever PEFR of 660, which is much higher than it should be. The only reason anybody can come up with is that I've played clarinet and recorder since I was a child (now 39). The down side of this is that a PEFR which looks OK to most Dr's means I'm in trouble, and I can keep my PEFR up even when very symptomatic which also causes a few problems! I'd be intersested to hear if any other woodwind players have come up against this.

3 Replies

Hi cliff hopper,

I play flute, clarinet and sax in addition to being a trained singer and studied music at uni. My peak flow is nowhere near as high as yours (I'm the same height and can get 500+ but I have had problems when Drs see a peak flow of 300/350 when I am really struggling (in A&E with 86% SATs). My lung function tests show a different ratio when you start looking at ratios etc. No one has ever made the link between peak flow and woodwind instruments with me but I seem to remember this coming up a few years ago on the board. However, a physio once commented on how good my breathing control was (I was not symptomatic at the time) and I said they were the same exercises I was taught in my flute lessons so there must be some benefit. I have found that I can really still have some control over my breathing when struggling but then I rapidly get a lot worse when this goes.


I also play a variety of woodwind instruments to varying standards (recorder / flute / clarinet / saxophone and have dabbled with oboe) but i'd only really call myself a competent flute player LOL

I'm 5ft and my peak flow isn't as good as either of you - i think about 500 PB but usually around 450 (apparently i 'should' be 426). Peak flow calculator here peakflow.com/top_nav/normal...

I also can get a good PF even when very symptomatic, especially as my main symptom is a cough so i can do the strong breath out to do the PF but then spend ages coughing. I made my own connection between good PF and flute playing a long time ago but most doctors don't seem to take any notice - i've only had one take it seriously, and that's because he was a flute player as a child / teenager too.


For a known asthmatic people have often commented on my breath control even though my PF isn't spectacular - currently 410/420 and I'm 5ft 3.5 ins and 53 years old (age does make a difference). I've never played a woodwind instrument, but I have done a lot of drama - and good breath control is very important for that (you try saying five lines of Shakespeare in one breath whilst projecting your voice at the same time). It does help when beginning to feel tight - the discipline of breathing in to a count of three and out to ten.

The really worrying thing about all this, however, is the apparent tendency of medically trained people to read charts and rely too much on the 'mean'. I've come across this before, though in an entirely different branch of medicine. Whatever happened to understanding about 'margins of error'?


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