Out-of-control Asthma Attack? Emergency Care May be a Life Saver
May 11, 2013
Nearly 25 million Americans have asthma, and many are able to keep it under control with inhalers and other self-management techniques. Sometimes, however, an asthma attack can be more severe than normal, requiring emergency intervention to prevent it from becoming life-threatening.
“All asthma exacerbations should be treated as emergencies,” says Craig Gronczewski, MD, Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro (UMCPP). “When an asthmatic patient comes to the Emergency Department complaining of wheezing and chest tightness, there’s no foolproof way to predict whether or not the condition will progress. That’s why we always perform a swift evaluation and treatment."
An Emergency Medicine physician will assess the individual to determine the severity of the attack. The doctor will evaluate:
- Volume of air moving in and out of lungs
- Oxygen level
- Heart rate
- Breath sounds
- Speech patterns (during an attack, it’s difficult to speak normally)
- Muscle movement of the chest and neck (muscles will visibly contract in a patient struggling to breathe)
Combating the Attack
Treatment usually includes administration of medicine through a nebulizer, a machine that converts medicine into a mist or vapor that the patient can breathe.
“We typically treat asthmatic patients with a combination of medications,” says Dr. Gronczewski, who is board certified in emergency medicine.“One helps dilate or open up the bronchial airways, while the other—a steroid—works to decrease any bronchial secretions that impede air flow.”
Medicines can be administered in other forms as well, such as through injection, orally or intravenously.
Dr. Gronczewski says most patients typically spend a few hours in the Emergency Department while the asthma attack is treated and brought under control, and then they are discharged to home. Those who don’t make a full recovery and are in need of further care may be admitted to the hospital.
“Asthma can be unpredictable and life-threatening. Never hesitate to seek the specialized care of an Emergency Department,” says Dr. Gronczewski. For more information about University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro’s Center for Emergency Care, visit www.princetonhcs.org.
If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 9-1-1.