© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media New York. Being able to rapidly detect a low air flow rate with high accuracy is essential for various applications in the automotive and biomedical industries. We have developed a thermal-based low air flow sensor with a low-power sensor readout for biomedical applications. The thermal-based air flow sensor comprises a heater and three pairs of temperature sensors that sense temperature differences due to laminar air flow. The thermal-based flow sensor was designed and simulated by using laminar flow, heat transfer in solids and fluids physics in COMSOL MultiPhysics software. The proposed sensor can detect air flow as low as 0.0064 m/s. The readout circuit is based on a current-controlled ring oscillator in which the output frequency of the ring oscillator is proportional to the temperature differences of the sensors. The entire readout circuit was designed and simulated by using a 130-nm standard CMOS process. The sensor circuit features a small area and low-power consumption of about 22.6 μW with an 800 mV power supply. In the simulation, the output frequency of the ring oscillator and the change in thermistor resistance showed a high linearity with an R2 value of 0.9987. The low-power dissipation, high linearity and small dimensions of the proposed flow sensor and circuit make the system highly suitable for biomedical applications.