Seven patients with status asthmaticus intubated for respiratory failure who had elevated airway pressures and persistent respiratory acidosis were successfully ventilated using a mixture of 60 percent helium and 40 percent oxygen. All patients experienced a rapid reduction in airway pressures, CO2 retention, and resolution of acidosis while breathing a helium-oxygen mixture. There were no untoward effects. Helium-oxygen mixtures improve ventilation by reducing the Reynolds number and reducing density dependent resistance. Helium's beneficial effects are due to its high kinematic viscosity, high binary diffusion coefficient for CO2, and high diffusivity. Helium-oxygen mixtures should be considered for use in mechanically ventilated asthmatics with respiratory acidosis who fail conventional therapy.