Objectives: To assess the effects of breathing a low-density gas mixture on dyspnea and the pulsus paradoxus in children with status asthmaticus.
Design: In an urban academic tertiary referral center, 18 patients, aged 16 months to 16 years, who were being treated for status asthmaticus with continuously inhaled beta-agonist and intravenously administered methylprednisolone and had a pulsus paradoxus of greater than 15 mm Hg received either an 80%:20% helium-oxygen gas mixture (HELIOX patients) or room air (control patients) at 10 L/min by nonrebreathing face mask in a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial. In all patients, baseline data, including pulsus paradoxus (determined by sphygmomanometer or arterial catheter blood pressure readings), respiratory rate, heart rate, investigator-scored dyspnea index, and oxygen saturation, were compared with values obtained 15 minutes during and after intervention. In a subset of patients, peak flows before and after breathing HELIOX or room air were measured. When clinically indicated, arterial blood gases were obtained.
Results: The pulsus paradoxus (in millimeters of mercury) fell significantly from an initial mean value of 23.3 +/- 6.8 to 10.6 +/- 2.8 with HELIOX breathing (p < 0.001) and increased again to 18.5 +/- 7.3 after cessation of HELIOX. Peak flow increased 69.4% +/- 12.8% during HELIOX breathing (p < 0.05). The dyspnea index decreased from an initial mean value of 5.7 +/- 1.3 to 1.9 +/- 1.7 with HELIOX breathing (p < 0.0002) and increased again to 4.0 +/- 0.5 after cessation of HELIOX breathing. In control patients, there was no significant difference in pulsus paradoxus or dyspnea index at any time during the study period. Mechanical ventilation was averted in three patients in whom dyspnea lessened dramatically during breathing of HELIOX.
Conclusion: During acute status asthmaticus, inhaled HELIOX significantly lowered the pulsus paradoxus, increased peak flow, and lessened the dyspnea index. Moreover, HELIOX spared three patients a planned intubation and caused no apparent side effects. Thus HELIOX reduces the work of breathing and may forestall respiratory failure in children with status asthmaticus, thus preventing the need for mechanical ventilation.