The critically ill asthmatic--from ICU to discharge

Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2012 Aug;43(1-2):30-44. doi: 10.1007/s12016-011-8274-y.


Status asthmaticus (SA) is defined as an acute, severe asthma exacerbation that does not respond readily to initial intensive therapy, while near-fatal asthma (NFA) refers loosely to a status asthmaticus attack that progresses to respiratory failure. The in-hospital mortality rate for all asthmatics is between 1% to 5%, but for critically ill asthmatics that require intubation the mortality rate is between 10% to 25% primarily from anoxia and cardiopulmonary arrest. Timely evaluation and treatment in the clinic, emergency room, or ultimately the intensive care unit (ICU) can prevent the morbidity and mortality associated with respiratory failure. Fatal asthma occurs from cardiopulmonary arrest, cerebral anoxia, or a complication of treatments, e.g., barotraumas, and ventilator-associated pneumonia. Mortality is highest in African-Americans, Puerto Rican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, women, and persons aged ≥ 65 years. Critical care physicians or intensivists must be skilled in managing the critically ill asthmatics with respiratory failure and knowledgeable about the few but potentially serious complications associated with mechanical ventilation. Bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory medications remain the standard therapies for managing SA and NFA patients in the ICU. NFA patients on mechanical ventilation require modes that allow for prolonged expiratory time and reverse the dynamic hyperinflation associated with the attack. Several adjuncts to mechanical ventilation, including heliox, general anesthesia, and extra-corporeal carbon dioxide removal, can be used as life-saving measures in extreme cases. Coordination of discharge and follow-up care can safely reduce the length of hospital stay and prevent future attacks of status asthmaticus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Respiration, Artificial / methods
  • Respiratory Insufficiency* / drug therapy
  • Respiratory Insufficiency* / mortality
  • Respiratory Insufficiency* / therapy
  • Status Asthmaticus* / drug therapy
  • Status Asthmaticus* / mortality
  • Status Asthmaticus* / therapy


  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents