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Beyond the guidelines: fatal and near-fatal asthma.

While asthma is extremely common, fatal and near fatal asthma is rare and often preventable if there is early recognition of symptom progression and appropriate intervention. In the past decade, asthma mortality has progressively declined in association with the widespread use of inhaled corticosteroids and asthma care plans. Management of life threatening asthma requires patient education to ensure the proper use of medications and to enable the patient to recognize when additional therapy for poorly controlled asthma is required. There is some evidence that suggests that the overly aggressive use of asthma medications when treating a severe exacerbation may contribute to morbidity. Because of the risks of air trapping and barotrauma associated with partial airway obstruction, it is best to avoid mechanical ventilation if possible but when this is used, low tidal volumes, longer exhalation times, and permissive hypercarbia can minimize these risks. There is the promise that a better understanding of asthma immunology and severe asthma "phenotypes" will lead to better prevention and therapy.

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