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What is status asthmaticus?
Status asthmaticus is an older, less precise term for what’s now more commonly known as acute severe asthma or a severe asthma exacerbation. It refers to an asthma attack that doesn’t improve with traditional treatments, such as inhaled bronchodilators. These attacks can last for several minutes or even hours.
Read on to learn more about the symptoms of status asthmaticus and how you can manage this condition to avoid complications.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of status asthmaticus often start out just like those of a regular asthma attack.
These initial symptoms include:
- short, shallow breaths
However, symptoms of status asthmaticus tend to get worse or fail to improve as the attack goes on. For example, wheezing and coughing might stop if you aren’t getting enough oxygen.
Other symptoms of an asthma attack associated with status asthmaticus include:
- difficulty breathing
- heavy sweating
- trouble speaking
- fatigue and weakness
- abdominal, back, or neck muscle pain
- panic or confusion
- blue-tinted lips or skin
- loss of consciousness
Who’s at risk of developing it?
Anyone with asthma is at risk of status asthmaticus. In just 2016, about 47 percent of all people with asthma reported having an asthma attack.
So what puts you at risk? Putting yourself in contact with any of the avoidable triggers listed above. But other things are unavoidable. Asthma is more common in boys than in girls, for instance.
Where you live can also impact your risk. For example, you have a 1.5 times higher risk of developing asthma if you live within 75 meters of a major highway. People living in poor communities also have an increased risk of uncontrolled asthma attacks, likely due to reduced access to quality healthcare.
Is your city good for asthma? Here are the best U.S. cities for people living with asthma.
How is it diagnosed?
To diagnose acute severe asthma, your doctor will start by doing an initial assessment of your breathing. They’ll ask about your symptoms and what kinds of treatments you’ve tried in the past.
If you’re currently having a severe asthma attack, they’ll do some tests to get more information about your breathing and airways, such as:
- how many breaths you take per minute
- how many times your heart beats per minute
- whether you’re able to breathe when lying flat
- the amount of air you breathe out when you exhale
- the amount of oxygen in your blood
- the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood
They might also perform a chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia or other lung infections. They may also use an electrocardiogram to rule out any heart issues.
How is it treated?
Status asthmaticus is usually a medical emergency. It doesn’t respond to traditional asthma treatments, which can make it hard to treat. Even if a medication or breathing treatment hasn’t worked for you in the past, your doctor may try them again in higher doses or in combination with other treatments.
Common treatments include:
- higher doses of inhaled bronchodilators, such as albuterol or levalbuterol to open up your airways
- oral, injected, or inhaled corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
- ipratroprium bromide, another type of bronchodilator different than albuterol
- an epinephrine shot
- temporary ventilation support
You might need to try a variety of treatments in combination with each other before you find something that works.
Does it cause any complications?
Status asthmaticus is a serious condition that can lead to other health issues if not properly managed. Some of these can be very serious, so it’s important to keep following up with your doctor until you find a treatment plan that works for you.
Possible complications from severe asthma include:
- partial or full lung collapse
Is there anything I can do to prevent an attack?
There’s no way to completely prevent severe asthma attacks if you have asthma. However, there are several things you can do to greatly reduce your risk of having one.
The most important step is sticking with the treatment plan recommended by your doctor. Even if your symptoms seem to be improving and you aren’t having any attacks, don’t stop any treatments until your doctor tells you to do so.
Other preventive measures you can take include:
- Using a peak flow monitor. This is a portable device that measures how much air comes out of your lungs when you quickly exhale. Keep track of your readings to see if you notice any patterns.
Buy a peak flow monitor here.
- Monitoring your triggers. Try to keep a running list of certain situations or activities that often accompany your attacks. This can help you avoid them in the future.
- Carrying an extra inhaler. Always keep an extra inhaler with you for emergencies. If you’re traveling, bring some extra medication with you.
- Talking to friends and family. Tell those close to you how to recognize the signs of a severe asthma attack and why they should take you to a hospital if they notice them. People who don’t have asthma might not realize how serious your condition is.
What’s the outlook?
Status asthmaticus is a serious condition that requires ongoing management. However, most people make a full recovery after being treated for a severe asthma attack in a hospital.
Be sure to follow up with your doctor as recommended even if you feel completely better. You should also work with your doctor to come up with a treatment plan that manages your symptoms and reduces your risk of having another attack.