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Assessment of Upper Airways Obstruction

Br Med J 1972; 3 doi: (Published 26 August 1972) Cite this as: Br Med J 1972;3:503
  1. D. W. Empey


    An indication of obstruction to the upper airways (trachea and larynx) may be obtained by calculating the ratio of the forced expired volume in one second to the peak expiratory flow rate (FEV1/PEFR). This index was found to be usually less than 10 in normal subjects (mean 7·3), and in patients with asthma (mean 6·9), chronic bronchitis (mean 7·7), or interstitial lung disease (mean 6·3). A study of simulated upper airways obstruction showed that this index rises as the obstruction becomes more severe. All of 18 patients with proved upper airways obstruction had FEV1/PEFR indices greater than 10 (mean 14·0). This test can be carried out with forced expiratory manoeuvres only, and it does not require the use of complicated equipment. An FEV1/PEFR ratio greater than 10, when upper airways obstruction is suspected, indicates that significant obstruction may be present. High values suggest that the obstruction may be severe, and that further investigations are indicated.