Background and aim: Serial assessment of peak expiratory flow (PEF) rates has been advocated as a sensitive and specific means of investigating occupational asthma. The possibility that, for several reasons, subjects do not accurately report their values has been raised. The availability of portable instruments that assess PEF and store timings and values now make it possible to estimate compliance and accuracy of results.
Methods: Twenty-one subjects consecutively investigated for occupational asthma were asked to assess their PEF every 2 hours during the day, both at work and away from work, with a VMX instrument (Clement Clarke International, Columbus, Ohio) and record the times and values on a sheet of paper. The subjects were not aware that the data were also being stored on a computer chip. The diagnosis was occupational asthma in eight subjects, personal asthma in four subjects, and neither condition in nine subjects.
Results: The mean duration of recording was 36 days (range, 14 to 79 days). At least 6048 values should have been recorded, but only 4839 (80%) were either recorded or stored. Reported values corresponded precisely to stored values in 2533 of 4839 recordings (52%). The timing of the recording was also examined in relation to the time at which the recording was solicited; values recorded within 1 hour of the solicited time were judged as acceptable. Of the total of 3342 recordings stored, 2375 (71%) satisfied this criterion. Compliance was significantly less satisfactory in those referred by the Workers' Compensation Board (n = 11).
Conclusion: In this survey of 21 subjects investigated for possible occupational asthma, compliance with PEF recording, as assessed by comparing recorded and stored results and the time at which the recording was solicited, was poor.