What’s normal about airway resistance?

The question that was actually posed to me a month or so ago was “when is RAW abnormal?” I didn’t have a good answer at the time since airway resistance (RAW) tests are not performed by my lab. The pulmonary physicians I work with don’t think that RAW is a clinically useful measurement and for a variety of reasons I don’t disagree with this. Nevertheless, RAW testing is routinely performed in many labs around the world so I thought it would be interesting to spend some time researching this.

When asking what’s normal the first issue is which RAW value are you talking about? The measurement of airways resistance using a body plethysmograph was first described by DuBois et al in 1956. Airway resistance (RAW) is the amount of pressure required to generate a given flow rate and is reported in cm H2O/L/Sec. A number of physiologists quickly found that the reciprocal of RAW, conductance (GAW), which is expressed as the flow rate for a given driving pressure (L/sec/cm H2O), was also a useful way to describe the pressure-flow relationship of the airways.

For technical reasons TGV (Thoracic Gas Volume) must be measured at the same time as RAW. It was soon noted that there was a relationship between RAW and TGV and that airway resistance decreased as lung volume increased.

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