The management of acute severe asthma

Paul E Marik, Joseph Varon, Robert Fromm
Journal of Emergency Medicine 2002, 23 (3): 257-68
Asthma is a common cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States, with over two million Emergency Department (ED) visits each year. Airway inflammation is recognized as a major component in the pathophysiology of asthma. The classic presentation of asthma is that of wheezing, cough, and dyspnea, however, the severity of airflow limitation correlates poorly with clinical signs. Forced exhaled volume in 1 s (FEV(1)) and the peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) are direct reflections of the severity of airflow obstruction and are the standard measures used in the ED to assess the severity of airflow obstruction and the response to therapy. Beta2-adrenergic bronchodilators, ipratropium bromide, and corticosteroids form the cornerstone of therapy. Inhaled corticosteroids, leukotriene modifying drugs, and noninvasive positive pressure ventilation should be considered in patients with severe disease and in those who have responded poorly to standard therapy. Mechanical ventilation is usually well tolerated and may be lifesaving in patients with refractory asthma. Precautions are required to prevent dynamic hyperinflation during assisted ventilation.

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