Inhaled therapy for acute adult asthma

Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003 Jun;3(3):169-75. doi: 10.1097/00130832-200306000-00004.


Purpose of review: To evaluate recent developments on emergency department inhalotherapy in non-intubated acute adult asthma patients.

Recent findings: There is evidence that high-flow oxygen can be associated with hypercarbia, and that full humidification of the inspired gases should be recommended. On the contrary, there is a lack of evidence to support the role of heliox in the initial treatment of acute asthma. Specific short-acting inhaled beta(2)-agonists are the drugs of choice. A more rapid and profound bronchodilatation with fewer side effects and less time of treatment can be achieved when sufficient doses are given using pressurized meter dose inhalers and large-volume valved-spacers, particularly in patients with the most severe obstruction. Findings argue against the routine use of continuous nebulization. High and repetitive doses of ipratropium bromide in combination with beta(2)-agonists are indicated as first line treatment of severe acute asthma. There is insufficient evidence that inhaled corticosteroids alone are as effective as systemic corticosteroids. Finally, the combination of nebulized magnesium and albuterol provides no benefit in addition to that provided by therapy with albuterol in patients with mild-to-moderate asthma exacerbations.

Summary: According to the latest evidence, the goals of treatment may be summarized as follows: maintenance of adequate arterial oxygen saturation with supplemental oxygen, relief of airflow obstruction by administration of inhaled beta-agonists and anticholinergics, and reduction of airway inflammation and prevention of future relapses by using early administration of systemic corticosteroids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Aerosols / administration & dosage
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Bronchodilator Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Helium / administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • Metered Dose Inhalers
  • Oxygen / administration & dosage
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Aerosols
  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Helium
  • heliox
  • Oxygen