Near-fatal asthma (NFA) is described as acute asthma associated with a respiratory arrest or arterial carbon dioxide tension greater than 50 mmHg, with or without altered consciousness, requiring mechanical ventilation. Risk factors for near fatal asthma have not been fully elucidated. In 80-85% of all fatal events, a phenotype, characterized by eosinophilic inflammation associated with gradual deterioration occurring in patients with severe and poorly controlled asthma, has been identified. Regarding to the management, acute severe asthma remains a significant clinical problem, which needs to be identified to facilitate early and appropriate therapeutic interventions. The assessment relies on clinical signs, but additional information might be obtained from chest radiography or blood gas analysis. No investigation should delay the initiation of appropriate therapy. The goals of therapy are the maintenance of oxygenation, relief of airflow obstruction, reduction of airways edema and mucus plugging (with Increased use of medications such as beta-agonists via metered dose inhalers and nebulizers, oral and/or intravenous (other than by inhalation) corticosteroids and oral or intravenous theophylline) whereas supporting ventilation as clinically indicated. Of course, the emergency physician needs to consider the wide range of potential complications, as attention to these problems when managing severe acute asthma might significantly improve outcome. An understanding of the available agents and potential pitfalls in the management of NFA is mandatory for the emergency physician.
Keywords: acute asthma; asthma attack; asthma exacerbations; asthma-related deaths; near fatal asthma; severe asthma.