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Understanding Status Asthmaticus

Asthma can be unpredictable, but it is important to recognize the difference between a minor flare-up and an attack that could be life-threatening. When symptoms fail to respond to prescribed daily medications, it could be a case of a more serious asthma attack called status asthmaticus.

Who is at risk?

Status asthmaticus generally occurs in adults and children with chronic, severe asthma who have suffered from serious attacks in the past, but any of the more than 25 million Americans who live with asthma are at risk. Symptoms of this dangerous condition can include extreme breathlessness and increased wheezing. As status asthmaticus progresses, speaking more than one or two words at a time becomes difficult. If left untreated, status asthmaticus can result in low blood oxygen, respiratory failure, and even death.

Status asthmaticus can develop over several days or even weeks, or can present with little warning and progress rapidly. Any of the triggers that can cause an asthma attack can bring on status asthmaticus, including air pollutants, allergens, exercise, smoke, acid reflux, emotions, and cold weather. In addition, an upper respiratory infection can contribute to status asthmaticus in people with asthma.

Preventing a severe attack

To help avoid status asthmaticus, be sure to:

  • Identify the allergens or other triggers that can bring on an asthma attack and avoid exposure to them.

  • Take asthma medications as directed, strictly following the dosage and frequency recommended by your health care provider.

  • Seek treatment as soon as possible, from an emergency room if necessary, when shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing does not respond to your prescribed asthma medications.

Education and proper treatment are the keys to making asthma a manageable condition.