Thumbnail image of: Asthma Action Plan: Illustration
Thumbnail image of: Asthma: Illustration

Status Asthmaticus

What is status asthmaticus?

Status asthmaticus is a severe asthma attack that does not respond to the usual treatment. Status asthmaticus is a medical emergency.

Asthma is a chronic (long-lasting) lung disease. It causes symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

Asthma symptoms are caused by two different problems in the airways.

  • One problem is that the muscles in the airways tighten up, which causes the feeling of chest tightness and wheezing.
  • The other problem is swelling, irritation, and too much mucus in the airways.

Asthma may be mild, moderate, or severe.

What is the cause?

If you have asthma, symptoms often start after you are exposed to a trigger. Asthma triggers can include:

  • Exercise
  • Allergies, such as dust, pollen, mold, or animal fur
  • Something that irritates your lungs, such as cold air, smoke, or strong smells like paint or perfume
  • Medicines like aspirin or NSAIDs
  • An infection such as a cold, the flu, or a sinus infection
  • Strong emotions or stress
  • Indigestion, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. If you often have problems with acid indigestion, you may have more asthma symptoms, especially at night.

People whose asthma is not well controlled are most at risk for status asthmaticus.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Extreme trouble breathing
  • Little or no breath sounds
  • Inability to speak
  • Bluish tinge to the skin or lips
  • Heavy sweating
  • Unconsciousness

Coughing and wheezing are common symptoms of asthma. However someone with status asthmaticus may not have enough airflow to be able to cough or wheeze.

The symptoms may develop over several days or weeks, or a severe attack may happen quickly.

How is it diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You will also have tests to measure the oxygen in your blood.

How is it treated?

You may need to be hospitalized. Some people need to be treated in an intensive care unit (ICU).

You will be given oxygen to increase blood oxygen levels. You will be treated with an inhaled or IV medicine to open the airways. You will receive steroid medicines and other medicines to reduce swelling and irritation, relax muscle tightening, and prevent mucus buildup.

How can I help prevent status asthmaticus?

Status asthmaticus is very serious, and you need to learn what triggers are most severe for you. It is important to avoid these triggers if at all possible, and to get care quickly if you cannot avoid them. It is also important for you to take your asthma medicines as prescribed.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-11-18
Last reviewed: 2014-04-01
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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