Background: Recent guidelines have enabled doctors to establish accident and emergency department management strategies for acute asthma on the basis of severity of exacerbations at presentation. However, there is no available information on acute asthma patients classified according to severity of disease. Our aim was to describe the severity of such exacerbations at presentation, and the adequacy of treatment and management.
Methods: We did a 12-month multicentre cross-sectional observational cohort study in adult patients with acute asthma who attended one of 37 accident and emergency departments in France. The doctors who examined the patients obtained information using a formatted chart. We classified exacerbations according to severity (life-threatening, severe, or mild to moderate), on the basis of clinical findings and peak expiratory flow value, as defined by currently used guidelines.
Findings: Of 3772 patients with acute asthma, 975 (26%) had life-threatening attacks, 1834 (49%) had severe exacerbations without life-threatening features, and 963 (26%) had mild to moderate exacerbations. Initial treatment included nebulised b2 agonists, anticholinergics, and systemic corticosteroids in 3492 (93%), 1841 (49%), and 2252 (60%), respectively. According to severity classification, anticholinergics were used in 494 (51%), 913 (50%), and 434 (45%) of patients in life-threatening, severe, and mild to moderate exacerbations groups, respectively; corticosteroids were given in 666 (68%), 1117 (61%), and 468 (49%), respectively. The overall admission rate was 54.2%, and mean stay was 6.1 (SD 6.0) days. Patients were admitted in 747 (77%), 1018 (55%), and 278 (29%) of cases in life-threatening, severe, and mild to moderate groups, respectively. Three patients died in hospital.
Interpretation: Acute asthma exacerbations are often life-threatening in patients who attend accident and emergency departments, and management of patients is not ideal, mainly because of underuse of corticosteroids and inappropriate admission rates according to severity.