Case Study: Managing Severe Asthma in an Adult

—he follows his treatment plan, but this 40-year-old male athlete has asthma that is not well-controlled. what’s the next step.

By Kirstin Bass, MD, PhD Reviewed by Michael E. Wechsler, MD, MMSc

This case presents a patient with poorly controlled asthma that remains refractory to treatment despite use of standard-of-care therapeutic options. For patients such as this, one needs to embark on an extensive work-up to confirm the diagnosis, assess for comorbidities, and finally, to consider different therapeutic options.


Case presentation and patient history

Mr. T is a 40-year-old recreational athlete with a medical history significant for asthma, for which he has been using an albuterol rescue inhaler approximately 3 times per week for the past year. During this time, he has also been waking up with asthma symptoms approximately twice a month, and has had three unscheduled asthma visits for mild flares. Based on the  National Asthma Education and Prevention Program guidelines , Mr. T has asthma that is not well controlled. 1

As a result of these symptoms, spirometry was performed revealing a forced expiratory volume in the first second (FEV1) of 78% predicted. Mr. T then was prescribed treatment with a low-dose corticosteroid, fluticasone 44 mcg at two puffs twice per day. However, he remained symptomatic and continued to use his rescue inhaler 3 times per week. Therefore, he was switched to a combination inhaled steroid and long-acting beta-agonist (LABA) (fluticasone propionate 250 mcg and salmeterol 50 mcg, one puff twice a day) by his primary care doctor.

Initial pulmonary assessment Even with this step up in his medication, Mr. T continued to be symptomatic and require rescue inhaler use. Therefore, he was referred to a pulmonologist, who performed the initial work-up shown here:

  • Spirometry, pre-albuterol: FEV1 79%, post-albuterol: 12% improvement
  • Methacholine challenge: PC 20 : 1.0 mg/mL
  • Chest X-ray: Within normal limits

Continued pulmonary assessment His dose of inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) and LABA was increased to fluticasone 500 mcg/salmeterol 50 mcg, one puff twice daily. However, he continued to have symptoms and returned to the pulmonologist for further work-up, shown here:

  • Chest computed tomography (CT): Normal lung parenchyma with no scarring or bronchiectasis
  • Sinus CT: Mild mucosal thickening
  • Complete blood count (CBC): Within normal limits, white blood cells (WBC) 10.0 K/mcL, 3% eosinophils
  • Immunoglobulin E (IgE): 25 IU/mL
  • Allergy-skin test: Positive for dust, trees
  • Exhaled NO: Fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) 53 parts per billion (pbb)

Assessment for comorbidities contributing to asthma symptoms After this work-up, tiotropium was added to his medication regimen. However, he remained symptomatic and had two more flares over the next 3 months. He was assessed for comorbid conditions that might be affecting his symptoms, and results showed:

  • Esophagram/barium swallow: Negative
  • Esophageal manometry: Negative
  • Esophageal impedance: Within normal limits
  • ECG: Within normal limits
  • Genetic testing: Negative for cystic fibrosis, alpha1 anti-trypsin deficiency

The ear, nose, and throat specialist to whom he was referred recommended only nasal inhaled steroids for his mild sinus disease and noted that he had a normal vocal cord evaluation.

Following this extensive work-up that transpired over the course of a year, Mr. T continued to have symptoms. He returned to the pulmonologist to discuss further treatment options for his refractory asthma.

Diagnosis Mr. T has refractory asthma. Work-up for this condition should include consideration of other causes for the symptoms, including allergies, gastroesophageal reflux disease, cardiac disease, sinus disease, vocal cord dysfunction, or genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis or alpha1 antitrypsin deficiency, as was performed for Mr. T by his pulmonary team.

Treatment options When a patient has refractory asthma, treatment options to consider include anticholinergics (tiotropium, aclidinium), leukotriene modifiers (montelukast, zafirlukast), theophylline, anti-immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody therapy with omalizumab, antibiotics, bronchial thermoplasty, or enrollment in a clinical trial evaluating the use of agents that modulate the cell signaling and immunologic responses seen in asthma.

Treatment outcome Mr. T underwent bronchial thermoplasty for his asthma. One year after the procedure, he reports feeling great. He has not taken systemic steroids for the past year, and his asthma remains controlled on a moderate dose of ICS and a LABA. He has also been able to resume exercising on a regular basis.

Approximately 10% to 15% of asthma patients have severe asthma refractory to the commonly available medications. 2  One key aspect of care for this patient population is a careful workup to exclude other comorbidities that could be contributing to their symptoms. Following this, there are several treatment options to consider, as in recent years there have been several advances in the development of asthma therapeutics. 2

Treatment options for refractory asthma There are a number of currently approved therapies for severe, refractory asthma. In addition to therapy with ICS or combination therapies with ICS and LABAs, leukotriene antagonists have good efficacy in asthma, especially in patients with prominent allergic or exercise symptoms. 2  The anticholinergics, such as tiotropium, which was approved for asthma in 2015, enhance bronchodilation and are useful adjuncts to ICS. 3-5  Omalizumab is a monoclonal antibody against IgE recommended for use in severe treatment-refractory allergic asthma in patients with atopy. 2  A nonmedication therapeutic option to consider is bronchial thermoplasty, a bronchoscopic procedure that uses thermal energy to disrupt bronchial smooth muscle. 6,7

Personalizing treatment for each patient It is important to personalize treatment based on individual characteristics or phenotypes that predict the patient's likely response to treatment, as well as the patient's preferences and practical issues, such as adherence and cost. 8

In this case, tiotropium had already been added to Mr. T's medications and his symptoms continued. Although addition of a leukotriene modifier was an option for him, he did not wish to add another medication to his care regimen. Omalizumab was not added partly for this reason, and also because of his low IgE level. As his bronchoscopy was negative, it was determined that a course of antibiotics would not be an effective treatment option for this patient. While vitamin D insufficiency has been associated with adverse outcomes in asthma, T's vitamin D level was tested and found to be sufficient.

We discussed the possibility of Mr. T's enrollment in a clinical trial. However, because this did not guarantee placement within a treatment arm and thus there was the possibility of receiving placebo, he opted to undergo bronchial thermoplasty.

Bronchial thermoplasty  Bronchial thermoplasty is effective for many patients with severe persistent asthma, such as Mr. T. This procedure may provide additional benefits to, but does not replace, standard asthma medications. During the procedure, thermal energy is delivered to the airways via a bronchoscope to reduce excess airway smooth muscle and limit its ability to constrict the airways. It is an outpatient procedure performed over three sessions by a trained physician. 9

The effects of bronchial thermoplasty have been studied in several trials. The first large-scale multicenter randomized controlled study was  the Asthma Intervention Research (AIR) Trial , which enrolled patients with moderate to severe asthma. 10  In this trial, patients who underwent the procedure had a significant improvement in asthma symptoms as measured by symptom-free days and scores on asthma control and quality of life questionnaires, as well as reductions in mild exacerbations and increases in morning peak expiratory flow. 10  Shortly after the AIR trial, the  Research in Severe Asthma (RISA) trial  was conducted to evaluate bronchial thermoplasty in patients with more severe, symptomatic asthma. 11  In this population, bronchial thermoplasty resulted in a transient worsening of asthma symptoms, with a higher rate of hospitalizations during the treatment period. 11  Hospitalization rate equalized between the treatment and control groups in the posttreatment period, however, and the treatment group showed significant improvements in rescue medication use, prebronchodilator forced expiratory volume in the first second (FEV1) % predicted, and asthma control questionnaire scores. 11

The AIR-2  trial followed, which was a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled study of 288 patients with severe asthma. 6  Similar to the RISA trial, patients in the treatment arm of this trial experienced an increase in adverse respiratory effects during the treatment period, the most common being airway irritation (including wheezing, chest discomfort, cough, and chest pain) and upper respiratory tract infections. 6

The majority of adverse effects occurred within 1 day of the procedure and resolved within 7 days. 6  In this study, bronchial thermoplasty was found to significantly improve quality of life, as well as reduce the rate of severe exacerbations by 32%. 6  Patients who underwent the procedure also reported fewer adverse respiratory effects, fewer days lost from work, school, or other activities due to asthma, and an 84% risk reduction in emergency department visits. 6

Long-term (5-year) follow-up studies have been conducted for patients in both  the AIR  and  the AIR-2  trials. In patients who underwent bronchial thermoplasty in either study, the rate of adverse respiratory effects remained stable in years 2 to 5 following the procedure, with no increase in hospitalizations or emergency department visits. 7,12  Additionally, FEV1 remained stable throughout the 5-year follow-up period. 7,12  This finding was maintained in patients enrolled in the AIR-2 trial despite decreased use of daily ICS. 7

Bronchial thermoplasty is an important addition to the asthma treatment armamentarium. 7  This treatment is currently approved for individuals with severe persistent asthma who remain uncontrolled despite the use of an ICS and LABA. Several clinical trials with long-term follow-up have now demonstrated its safety and ability to improve quality of life in patients with severe asthma, such as Mr. T.

Severe asthma can be a challenge to manage. Patients with this condition require an extensive workup, but there are several treatments currently available to help manage these patients, and new treatments are continuing to emerge. Managing severe asthma thus requires knowledge of the options available as well as consideration of a patient's personal situation-both in terms of disease phenotype and individual preference. In this case, the patient expressed a strong desire to not add any additional medications to his asthma regimen, which explained the rationale for choosing to treat with bronchial thermoplasty. Personalized treatment necessitates exploring which of the available or emerging options is best for each individual patient.

Published: April 16, 2018

  • 1. National Asthma Education and Prevention Program: Asthma Care Quick Reference.
  • 2. Olin JT, Wechsler ME. Asthma: pathogenesis and novel drugs for treatment. BMJ . 2014;349:g5517.
  • 3. Boehringer Ingelheim. Asthma: U.S. FDA approves new indication for SPIRIVA Respimat [press release]. September 16, 2015.
  • 4. Peters SP, Kunselman SJ, Icitovic N, et al. Tiotropium bromide step-up therapy for adults with uncontrolled asthma. N Engl J Med . 2010;363:1715-1726.
  • 5. Kerstjens HA, Engel M, Dahl R. Tiotropium in asthma poorly controlled with standard combination therapy. N Engl J Med . 2012;367:1198-1207.
  • 6. Castro M, Rubin AS, Laviolette M, et al. Effectiveness and safety of bronchial thermoplasty in the treatment of severe asthma: a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled clinical trial. Am J Respir Crit Care Med . 2010;181:116-124.
  • 7. Wechsler ME, Laviolette M, Rubin AS, et al. Bronchial thermoplasty: long-term safety and effectiveness in patients with severe persistent asthma. J Allergy Clin Immunol . 2013;132:1295-1302.
  • 8. Global Initiative for Asthma: Pocket Guide for Asthma Management and Prevention (for Adults and Children Older than 5 Years).
  • 10. Cox G, Thomson NC, Rubin AS, et al. Asthma control during the year after bronchial thermoplasty. N Engl J Med . 2007;356:1327-1337.
  • 11. Pavord ID, Cox G, Thomson NC, et al. Safety and efficacy of bronchial thermoplasty in symptomatic, severe asthma. Am J Respir Crit Care Med . 2007;176:1185-1191.
  • 12. Thomson NC, Rubin AS, Niven RM, et al. Long-term (5 year) safety of bronchial thermoplasty: Asthma Intervention Research (AIR) trial. BMC Pulm Med . 2011;11:8.

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  • Published: 16 October 2014

A woman with asthma: a whole systems approach to supporting self-management

  • Hilary Pinnock 1 ,
  • Elisabeth Ehrlich 1 ,
  • Gaylor Hoskins 2 &
  • Ron Tomlins 3  

npj Primary Care Respiratory Medicine volume  24 , Article number:  14063 ( 2014 ) Cite this article

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A 35-year-old lady attends for review of her asthma following an acute exacerbation. There is an extensive evidence base for supported self-management for people living with asthma, and international and national guidelines emphasise the importance of providing a written asthma action plan. Effective implementation of this recommendation for the lady in this case study is considered from the perspective of a patient, healthcare professional, and the organisation. The patient emphasises the importance of developing a partnership based on honesty and trust, the need for adherence to monitoring and regular treatment, and involvement of family support. The professional considers the provision of asthma self-management in the context of a structured review, with a focus on a self-management discussion which elicits the patient’s goals and preferences. The organisation has a crucial role in promoting, enabling and providing resources to support professionals to provide self-management. The patient’s asthma control was assessed and management optimised in two structured reviews. Her goal was to avoid disruption to her work and her personalised action plan focused on achieving that goal.

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A 35-year-old sales representative attends the practice for an asthma review. Her medical record notes that she has had asthma since childhood, and although for many months of the year her asthma is well controlled (when she often reduces or stops her inhaled steroids), she experiences one or two exacerbations a year requiring oral steroids. These are usually triggered by a viral upper respiratory infection, though last summer when the pollen count was particularly high she became tight chested and wheezy for a couple of weeks.

Her regular prescription is for fluticasone 100 mcg twice a day, and salbutamol as required. She has a young family and a busy lifestyle so does not often manage to find time to attend the asthma clinic. A few weeks previously, an asthma attack had interfered with some important work-related travel, and she has attended the clinic on this occasion to ask about how this can be managed better in the future. There is no record of her having been given an asthma action plan.

What do we know about asthma self-management? The academic perspective

Supported self-management reduces asthma morbidity.

The lady in this case study is struggling to maintain control of her asthma within the context of her busy professional and domestic life. The recent unfortunate experience which triggered this consultation offers a rare opportunity to engage with her and discuss how she can manage her asthma better. It behoves the clinician whom she is seeing (regardless of whether this is in a dedicated asthma clinic or an appointment in a routine general practice surgery) to grasp the opportunity and discuss self-management and provide her with a (written) personalised asthma action plan (PAAP).

The healthcare professional advising the lady is likely to be aware that international and national guidelines emphasise the importance of supporting self-management. 1 – 4 There is an extensive evidence base for asthma self-management: a recent synthesis identified 22 systematic reviews summarising data from 260 randomised controlled trials encompassing a broad range of demographic, clinical and healthcare contexts, which concluded that asthma self-management reduces emergency use of healthcare resources, including emergency department visits, hospital admissions and unscheduled consultations and improves markers of asthma control, including reduced symptoms and days off work, and improves quality of life. 1 , 2 , 5 – 12 Health economic analysis suggests that it is not only clinically effective, but also a cost-effective intervention. 13

Personalised asthma action plans

Key features of effective self-management approaches are:

Self-management education should be reinforced by provision of a (written) PAAP which reminds patients of their regular treatment, how to monitor and recognise that control is deteriorating and the action they should take. 14 – 16 As an adult, our patient can choose whether she wishes to monitor her control with symptoms or by recording peak flows (or a combination of both). 6 , 8 , 9 , 14 Symptom-based monitoring is generally better in children. 15 , 16

Plans should have between two and three action points including emergency doses of reliever medication; increasing low dose (or recommencing) inhaled steroids; or starting a course of oral steroids according to severity of the exacerbation. 14

Personalisation of the action plan is crucial. Focussing specifically on what actions she could take to prevent a repetition of the recent attack is likely to engage her interest. Not all patients will wish to start oral steroids without advice from a healthcare professional, though with her busy lifestyle and travel our patient is likely to be keen to have an emergency supply of prednisolone. Mobile technology has the potential to support self-management, 17 , 18 though a recent systematic review concluded that none of the currently available smart phone ‘apps’ were fit for purpose. 19

Identification and avoidance of her triggers is important. As pollen seems to be a trigger, management of allergic rhinitis needs to be discussed (and included in her action plan): she may benefit from regular use of a nasal steroid spray during the season. 20

Self-management as recommended by guidelines, 1 , 2 focuses narrowly on adherence to medication/monitoring and the early recognition/remediation of exacerbations, summarised in (written) PAAPs. Patients, however, may want to discuss how to reduce the impact of asthma on their life more generally, 21 including non-pharmacological approaches.

Supported self-management

The impact is greater if self-management education is delivered within a comprehensive programme of accessible, proactive asthma care, 22 and needs to be supported by ongoing regular review. 6 With her busy lifestyle, our patient may be reluctant to attend follow-up appointments, and once her asthma is controlled it may be possible to make convenient arrangements for professional review perhaps by telephone, 23 , 24 or e-mail. Flexible access to professional advice (e.g., utilising diverse modes of consultation) is an important component of supporting self-management. 25

The challenge of implementation

Implementation of self-management, however, remains poor in routine clinical practice. A recent Asthma UK web-survey estimated that only 24% of people with asthma in the UK currently have a PAAP, 26 with similar figures from Sweden 27 and Australia. 28 The general practitioner may feel that they do not have time to discuss self-management in a routine surgery appointment, or may not have a supply of paper-based PAAPs readily available. 29 However, as our patient rarely finds time to attend the practice, inviting her to make an appointment for a future clinic is likely to be unsuccessful and the opportunity to provide the help she needs will be missed.

The solution will need a whole systems approach

A systematic meta-review of implementing supported self-management in long-term conditions (including asthma) concluded that effective implementation was multifaceted and multidisciplinary; engaging patients, training and motivating professionals within the context of an organisation which actively supported self-management. 5 This whole systems approach considers that although patient education, professional training and organisational support are all essential components of successful support, they are rarely effective in isolation. 30 A systematic review of interventions that promote provision/use of PAAPs highlighted the importance of organisational systems (e.g., sending blank PAAPs with recall reminders). 31 A patient offers her perspective ( Box 1 ), a healthcare professional considers the clinical challenge, and the challenges are discussed from an organisational perspective.

Box 1: What self-management help should this lady expect from her general practitioner or asthma nurse? The patient’s perspective

The first priority is that the patient is reassured that her condition can be managed successfully both in the short and the long term. A good working relationship with the health professional is essential to achieve this outcome. Developing trust between patient and healthcare professional is more likely to lead to the patient following the PAAP on a long-term basis.

A review of all medication and possible alternative treatments should be discussed. The patient needs to understand why any changes are being made and when she can expect to see improvements in her condition. Be honest, as sometimes it will be necessary to adjust dosages before benefits are experienced. Be positive. ‘There are a number of things we can do to try to reduce the impact of asthma on your daily life’. ‘Preventer treatment can protect against the effect of pollen in the hay fever season’. If possible, the same healthcare professional should see the patient at all follow-up appointments as this builds trust and a feeling of working together to achieve the aim of better self-management.

Is the healthcare professional sure that the patient knows how to take her medication and that it is taken at the same time each day? The patient needs to understand the benefit of such a routine. Medication taken regularly at the same time each day is part of any self-management regime. If the patient is unused to taking medication at the same time each day then keeping a record on paper or with an electronic device could help. Possibly the patient could be encouraged to set up a system of reminders by text or smartphone.

Some people find having a peak flow meter useful. Knowing one's usual reading means that any fall can act as an early warning to put the PAAP into action. Patients need to be proactive here and take responsibility.

Ongoing support is essential for this patient to ensure that she takes her medication appropriately. Someone needs to be available to answer questions and provide encouragement. This could be a doctor or a nurse or a pharmacist. Again, this is an example of the partnership needed to achieve good asthma control.

It would also be useful at a future appointment to discuss the patient’s lifestyle and work with her to reduce her stress. Feeling better would allow her to take simple steps such as taking exercise. It would also be helpful if all members of her family understood how to help her. Even young children can do this.

From personal experience some people know how beneficial it is to feel they are in a partnership with their local practice and pharmacy. Being proactive produces dividends in asthma control.

What are the clinical challenges for the healthcare professional in providing self-management support?

Due to the variable nature of asthma, a long-standing history may mean that the frequency and severity of symptoms, as well as what triggers them, may have changed over time. 32 Exacerbations requiring oral steroids, interrupting periods of ‘stability’, indicate the need for re-assessment of the patient’s clinical as well as educational needs. The patient’s perception of stability may be at odds with the clinical definition 1 , 33 —a check on the number of short-acting bronchodilator inhalers the patient has used over a specific period of time is a good indication of control. 34 Assessment of asthma control should be carried out using objective tools such as the Asthma Control Test or the Royal College of Physicians three questions. 35 , 36 However, it is important to remember that these assessment tools are not an end in themselves but should be a springboard for further discussion on the nature and pattern of symptoms. Balancing work with family can often make it difficult to find the time to attend a review of asthma particularly when the patient feels well. The practice should consider utilising other means of communication to maintain contact with patients, encouraging them to come in when a problem is highlighted. 37 , 38 Asthma guidelines advocate a structured approach to ensure the patient is reviewed regularly and recommend a detailed assessment to enable development of an appropriate patient-centred (self)management strategy. 1 – 4

Although self-management plans have been shown to be successful for reducing the impact of asthma, 21 , 39 the complexity of managing such a fluctuating disease on a day-to-day basis is challenging. During an asthma review, there is an opportunity to work with the patient to try to identify what triggers their symptoms and any actions that may help improve or maintain control. 38 An integral part of personalised self-management education is the written PAAP, which gives the patient the knowledge to respond to the changes in symptoms and ensures they maintain control of their asthma within predetermined parameters. 9 , 40 The PAAP should include details on how to monitor asthma, recognise symptoms, how to alter medication and what to do if the symptoms do not improve. The plan should include details on the treatment to be taken when asthma is well controlled, and how to adjust it when the symptoms are mild, moderate or severe. These action plans need to be developed between the doctor, nurse or asthma educator and the patient during the review and should be frequently reviewed and updated in partnership (see Box 1). Patient preference as well as clinical features such as whether she under- or over-perceives her symptoms should be taken into account when deciding whether the action plan is peak flow or symptom-driven. Our patient has a lot to gain from having an action plan. She has poorly controlled asthma and her lifestyle means that she will probably see different doctors (depending who is available) when she needs help. Being empowered to self-manage could make a big difference to her asthma control and the impact it has on her life.

The practice should have protocols in place, underpinned by specific training to support asthma self-management. As well as ensuring that healthcare professionals have appropriate skills, this should include training for reception staff so that they know what action to take if a patient telephones to say they are having an asthma attack.

However, focusing solely on symptom management strategies (actions) to follow in the presence of deteriorating symptoms fails to incorporate the patients’ wider views of asthma, its management within the context of her/his life, and their personal asthma management strategies. 41 This may result in a failure to use plans to maximise their health potential. 21 , 42 A self-management strategy leading to improved outcomes requires a high level of patient self-efficacy, 43 a meaningful partnership between the patient and the supporting health professional, 42 , 44 and a focused self-management discussion. 14

Central to both the effectiveness and personalisation of action plans, 43 , 45 in particular the likelihood that the plan will lead to changes in patients’ day-to-day self-management behaviours, 45 is the identification of goals. Goals are more likely to be achieved when they are specific, important to patients, collaboratively set and there is a belief that these can be achieved. Success depends on motivation 44 , 46 to engage in a specific behaviour to achieve a valued outcome (goal) and the ability to translate the behavioural intention into action. 47 Action and coping planning increases the likelihood that patient behaviour will actually change. 44 , 46 , 47 Our patient has a goal: she wants to avoid having her work disrupted by her asthma. Her personalised action plan needs to explicitly focus on achieving that goal.

As providers of self-management support, health professionals must work with patients to identify goals (valued outcomes) that are important to patients, that may be achievable and with which they can engage. The identification of specific, personalised goals and associated feasible behaviours is a prerequisite for the creation of asthma self-management plans. Divergent perceptions of asthma and how to manage it, and a mismatch between what patients want/need from these plans and what is provided by professionals are barriers to success. 41 , 42

What are the challenges for the healthcare organisation in providing self-management support?

A number of studies have demonstrated the challenges for primary care physicians in providing ongoing support for people with asthma. 31 , 48 , 49 In some countries, nurses and other allied health professionals have been trained as asthma educators and monitor people with stable asthma. These resources are not always available. In addition, some primary care services are delivered in constrained systems where only a few minutes are available to the practitioner in a consultation, or where only a limited range of asthma medicines are available or affordable. 50

There is recognition that the delivery of quality care depends on the competence of the doctor (and supporting health professionals), the relationship between the care providers and care recipients, and the quality of the environment in which care is delivered. 51 This includes societal expectations, health literacy and financial drivers.

In 2001, the Australian Government adopted a programme developed by the General Practitioner Asthma Group of the National Asthma Council Australia that provided a structured approach to the implementation of asthma management guidelines in a primary care setting. 52 Patients with moderate-to-severe asthma were eligible to participate. The 3+ visit plan required confirmation of asthma diagnosis, spirometry if appropriate, assessment of trigger factors, consideration of medication and patient self-management education including provision of a written PAAP. These elements, including regular medical review, were delivered over three visits. Evaluation demonstrated that the programme was beneficial but that it was difficult to complete the third visit in the programme. 53 – 55 Accordingly, the programme, renamed the Asthma Cycle of Care, was modified to incorporate two visits. 56 Financial incentives are provided to practices for each patient who receives this service each year.

Concurrently, other programmes were implemented which support practice-based care. Since 2002, the National Asthma Council has provided best-practice asthma and respiratory management education to health professionals, 57 and this programme will be continuing to 2017. The general practitioner and allied health professional trainers travel the country to provide asthma and COPD updates to groups of doctors, nurses and community pharmacists. A number of online modules are also provided. The PACE (Physician Asthma Care Education) programme developed by Noreen Clark has also been adapted to the Australian healthcare system. 58 In addition, a pharmacy-based intervention has been trialled and implemented. 59

To support these programmes, the National Asthma Council ( ) has developed resources for use in practices. A strong emphasis has been on the availability of a range of PAAPs (including plans for using adjustable maintenance dosing with ICS/LABA combination inhalers), plans for indigenous Australians, paediatric plans and plans translated into nine languages. PAAPs embedded in practice computer systems are readily available in consultations, and there are easily accessible online paediatric PAAPs ( ). A software package, developed in the UK, can be downloaded and used to generate a pictorial PAAP within the consultation. 60

One of the strongest drivers towards the provision of written asthma action plans in Australia has been the Asthma Friendly Schools programme. 61 , 62 Established with Australian Government funding and the co-operation of Education Departments of each state, the Asthma Friendly Schools programme engages schools to address and satisfy a set of criteria that establishes an asthma-friendly environment. As part of accreditation, the school requires that each child with asthma should have a written PAAP prepared by their doctor to assist (trained) staff in managing a child with asthma at school.

The case study continues...

The initial presentation some weeks ago was during an exacerbation of asthma, which may not be the best time to educate a patient. It is, however, a splendid time to build on their motivation to feel better. She agreed to return after her asthma had settled to look more closely at her asthma control, and an appointment was made for a routine review.

At this follow-up consultation, the patient’s diagnosis was reviewed and confirmed and her trigger factors discussed. For this lady, respiratory tract infections are the usual trigger but allergic factors during times of high pollen count may also be relevant. Assessment of her nasal airway suggested that she would benefit from better control of allergic rhinitis. Other factors were discussed, as many patients are unaware that changes in air temperature, exercise and pets can also trigger asthma exacerbations. In addition, use of the Asthma Control Test was useful as an objective assessment of control as well as helping her realise what her life could be like! Many people with long-term asthma live their life within the constraints of their illness, accepting that is all that they can do.

After assessing the level of asthma control, a discussion about management options—trigger avoidance, exercise and medicines—led to the development of a written PAAP. Asthma can affect the whole family, and ways were explored that could help her family understand why it is important that she finds time in the busy domestic schedules to take her regular medication. Family and friends can also help by understanding what triggers her asthma so that they can avoid exposing her to perfumes, pollens or pets that risk triggering her symptoms. Information from the national patient organisation was provided to reinforce the messages.

The patient agreed to return in a couple of weeks, and a recall reminder was set up. At the second consultation, the level of control since the last visit will be explored including repeat spirometry, if appropriate. Further education about the pathophysiology of asthma and how to recognise early warning signs of loss of control can be given. Device use will be reassessed and the PAAP reviewed. Our patient’s goal is to avoid disruption to her work and her PAAP will focus on achieving that goal. Finally, agreement will be reached with the patient about future routine reviews, which, now that she has a written PAAP, could be scheduled by telephone if all is well, or face-to-face if a change in her clinical condition necessitates a more comprehensive review.

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Case 1 diagnosis: allergy bullying, clinical pearls.

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Case 1: A 12-year-old girl with food allergies and an acute asthma exacerbation

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Lopamudra Das, Michelle GK Ward, Case 1: A 12-year-old girl with food allergies and an acute asthma exacerbation, Paediatrics & Child Health , Volume 19, Issue 2, February 2014, Pages 69–70,

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A 12-year-old girl with a history of asthma presented to the emergency department with a three-day history of increased work of breathing, cough and wheezing. She reported no clear trigger for her respiratory symptoms, although she had noted some symptoms of a mild upper respiratory tract infection. With this episode, the patient had been using a short-acting bronchodilator more frequently than she had in the past, without the expected resolution of symptoms.

On the day of presentation, the patient awoke feeling ‘suffocated’ and her mother noted her lips to be blue. In the emergency department, her oxygen saturation was 85% and her respiratory rate was 40 breaths/min. She had significantly increased work of breathing and poor air entry bilaterally to both lung bases, with wheezing in the upper lung zones. She was treated with salbutamol/ipratropium and received intravenous steroids and magnesium sulfate. Her chest x-ray showed hyperinflation and no focal findings.

Her medical history revealed that she was followed by a respirologist for her asthma, had good medication adherence and had not experienced a significant exacerbation for six months. She also had a history of wheezing, dyspnea and pruritis with exposure to peanuts, chickpeas and lentils; she had been prescribed an injectible epinephrine device for this. However, her device had expired at the time of presentation. In the past, her wheezing episodes had been seasonal and related to exposure to grass and pollens; this presentation occurred during the winter. Further history revealed the probable cause of her presentation.

Although reluctant to disclose the information, our patient later revealed that she had been experiencing significant bullying at school, which was primarily related to her food allergies. Three days before her admission, classmates had smeared peanut butter on one of her schoolbooks. She developed pruritis immediately after opening the book and she started wheezing and coughing later that day. This event followed several months of being taunted with peanut products at school. The patient was experiencing low mood and reported new symptoms of anxiety related to school. The review of systems was otherwise negative, with no substance use.

The patient's asthma exacerbation resolved with conventional asthma treatment. Her pulmonary function tests were nonconcerning (forced expiratory volume in 1 s 94% and 99% of predicted) after her recovery. The trigger for her asthma exacerbation was likely multifactorial, related to exposure to the food allergen as well as the upper respiratory infection. A psychologist was consulted to assess the symptoms of anxiety and depression that had occurred as a result of the bullying. During the hospitalization, the medical team contacted the patient's school to provide education on allergy bullying, treatment of severe allergic reactions and its potential for life-threatening reactions with exposure to allergens. The medical team also recommended community resources for further education of students and staff about allergy bullying and its prevention.

Allergy bullying is a form of bullying with potentially severe medical outcomes. In recent years, it has gained increasing notoriety in schools and in the media. Population-based studies have shown that 20% to 35% of children with allergies experience bullying. In many cases (31% in one recent study [ 1 ]), this bullying is related directly to the food allergy. From a medical perspective, there are little published data regarding allergy bullying, and many health care providers may not be aware of the issue.

Allergy bullying can include teasing a child about their allergy, throwing food at a child, or even forcing them to touch or eat allergenic foods. Most episodes of allergy bullying occur at school, and can include episodes perpetrated by teachers and/or staff ( 2 ).

Allergy bullying can lead to allergic reactions, which may be mild or severe (eg, urticaria, wheezing, anaphylaxis), but may also lead to negative emotional consequences (sadness, depression) ( 2 ) and an overall decrease in quality of life measures ( 1 ). Adolescents commonly resist using medical devices, such as injectible epinephrine devices, and bullying may be a contributing factor for this ( 3 ). Attempting to conceal symptoms in a bullying situation may place children at risk for a worse outcome.

Physicians can play a key role in detecting allergy bullying and its health consequences. In many cases, children have not discussed this issue with their parents ( 1 ). Given the prevalence of bullying, its potential to lead to severe harm, including death, and the lack of awareness of this issue, clinicians should specifically ask about bullying in all children and teens with allergies. Physicians can also work with families and schools to support these children, educate their peers and school staff, and help prevent negative health outcomes from allergy bullying.

Online resources − A national charity that aims to inform, support, educate and advocate for the needs of individuals and families living with anaphylaxis, and to support and participate in research. This website includes education modules for schools and links to local support groups throughout Canada. − A website for teenagers with food allergies; includes a segment that addresses food bullying. − Contains numerous resources for children and their families, including a significant discussion on bullying and ways to prevent it.

Allergy bullying is common but is often unrecognized as a factor in clinical presentations of allergic reactions.

Physicians should make a point of asking about bullying in patients with allergies and become familiar with resources for dealing with allergy bullying.

Physicians can play roles as advocates, educators and collaborators with the school system to help make the school environment safer for children with allergies who may be at risk for allergy bullying.

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Pediatric severe asthma: a case series report and perspectives on anti-IgE treatment

  • Virginia Mirra 1 ,
  • Silvia Montella 1 &
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The primary goal of asthma management is to achieve disease control for reducing the risk of future exacerbations and progressive loss of lung function. Asthma not responding to treatment may result in significant morbidity. In many children with uncontrolled symptoms, the diagnosis of asthma may be wrong or adherence to treatment may be poor. It is then crucial to distinguish these cases from the truly “severe therapy-resistant” asthmatics by a proper filtering process. Herein we report on four cases diagnosed as difficult asthma, detail the workup that resulted in the ultimate diagnosis, and provide the process that led to the prescription of omalizumab.

Case presentation

All children had been initially referred because of asthma not responding to long-term treatment with high-dose inhaled steroids, long-acting β 2 -agonists and leukotriene receptor antagonists. Definitive diagnosis was severe asthma. Three out four patients were treated with omalizumab, which improved asthma control and patients’ quality of life. We reviewed the current literature on the diagnostic approach to the disease and on the comorbidities associated with difficult asthma and presented the perspectives on omalizumab treatment in children and adolescents. Based on the evidence from the literature review, we also proposed an algorithm for the diagnosis of pediatric difficult-to-treat and severe asthma.


The management of asthma is becoming much more patient-specific, as more and more is learned about the biology behind the development and progression of asthma. The addition of omalizumab, the first targeted biological treatment approved for asthma, has led to renewed optimism in the management of children and adolescents with atopic severe asthma.

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Children with poor asthma control have an increased risk of severe exacerbations and progressive loss of lung function, which results in the relevant use of health resources and impaired quality of life (QoL) [ 1 ]. Therefore, the primary goal of asthma management at all ages is to achieve disease control [ 2 , 3 , 4 ].

According to recent international guidelines, patients with uncontrolled asthma require a prolonged maintenance treatment with high-dose inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) in association with a long-acting β 2 -agonist (LABA) plus oral leukotriene receptor antagonist (LTRA) (Table  1 ) [ 5 ].

Nevertheless, in the presence of persistent lack of control, reversible factors such as adherence to treatment or inhalation technique should be first checked for, and diseases that can masquerade as asthma should be promptly excluded. Finally, additional strategies, in particular anti-immunoglobulin E (anti-IgE) treatment (omalizumab), are suggested for patients with moderate or severe allergic asthma that remains uncontrolled in Step 4 [ 5 ].

Herein, we reviewed the demographics, clinical presentation and treatment of four patients with uncontrolled severe asthma from our institution in order to explain why we decided to prescribe omalizumab. We also provided a review of the current literature that focuses on recent advances in the diagnosis of pediatric difficult asthma and the associated comorbidities, and summarizes the perspectives on anti-IgE treatment in children and adolescents.

Case presentations

Table  2 summarizes the clinical characteristics and the triggers/comorbidities of the cases at referral to our Institution. Unfortunately, data on psychological factors, sleep apnea, and hyperventilation syndrome were not available in any case. Clinical, lung function and airway inflammation findings at baseline and after 12 months of follow-up are reported in Table  3 . In the description of our cases, we used the terminology recommended by the ERS/ATS guidelines on severe asthma [ 6 ].

A full-term male had severe preschool wheezing and, since age 3, recurrent, severe asthma exacerbations with frequent hospital admissions. At age 11, severe asthma was diagnosed. Sensitization to multiple inhalant allergens (i.e., house dust mites, dog dander, Graminaceae pollen mix, and Parietaria judaica ) and high serum IgE levels (1548 KU/l) were found. Body mass index (BMI) was within normal range. Combined treatment with increasing doses of ICS (fluticasone, up to 1000 μg/day) in association with LABA (salmeterol, 100 μg/day) plus LTRA (montelukast, 5 mg/day) has been administered over 2 years. Nevertheless, persistent symptoms and monthly hospital admissions due to asthma exacerbations despite correct inhaler technique and good adherence were reported. Parents refused to perform any test to exclude gastroesophageal reflux (GER) as comorbidity [ 6 ]. However, an ex-juvantibus 2-month-course with omeprazole was added to asthma treatment [ 7 ], but poor control persisted. Anterior rhinoscopy revealed rhinosinusitis that was treated with nasal steroids for six months [ 8 ], but asthma symptoms were unmodified. Treatment with omalizumab was added at age 12. Reduced hospital admissions for asthma exacerbations, no further need for systemic steroids, and improved QoL score (from 2.0 up to 6.7 out of a maximum of 7 points) were documented over the following months. Unfortunately, after one year of treatment, adherence to omalizumab decreased because of family complaints, and eventually parents withdrew their informed consent and discontinued omalizumab. Currently, by age 17, treatment includes inhaled salmeterol/fluticasone (100 μg/500 μg∙day -1 , respectively) plus oral montelukast (10 mg/day). Satisfactory symptom control is reported, with no asthma exacerbations.

A full-term male, who had a recurrent severe preschool wheezing, at 6 years of age developed exercise-induced asthma. At age 10, severe asthma was diagnosed. High serum IgE levels (1300 KU/l) and skin prick tests positive to house dust mites were found. Despite a 3-year treatment with progressively increasing doses of inhaled fluticasone (up to 1000 μg/day) combined with salmeterol (100 μg/day) and oral montelukast (5 mg/day), monthly hospital admissions with systemic steroids use were reported. At age 13, a 24-h esophageal impedance/pH study demonstrated the presence of acid and non-acid GER [ 7 ]. Esomeprazole was added to asthma medications, but with an incomplete clinical benefit for respiratory symptoms. Esomeprazole was withdrawn after 3 months, and parents refused to re-test for GER. As respiratory symptoms persisted uncontrolled despite treatment, severe asthma was definitively diagnosed [ 6 ]. BMI was within the normal range and anterior rhinoscopy excluded rhinosinusitis. Inhaler technique and adherence were good; thus we considered the anti-IgE treatment option [ 9 ]. Subcutaneous omalizumab was started, with fast improvement of both symptoms and QoL score (from 3.9 up to 6.5). Seventeen months later, the dose of ICS had been gradually tapered and oral montelukast definitely discontinued. Currently, at age 14, treatment includes the combined administration of bimonthly subcutaneous omalizumab and of daily inhaled salmeterol/fluticasone (50 μg/100 μg∙day - 1 , respectively). Asthma control is satisfactory and no side effects are reported. Omalizumab has been continuously administered for 2.6 years and is still ongoing.

A full-term male had severe preschool wheezing and, since age 3, recurrent, severe asthma exacerbations with acute respiratory failure that frequently required intensive care unit (ICU) admission. At age 6, sensitization to multiple perennial inhalant (i.e., house dust mites, dog and cat danders, Alternaria alternata , Graminaceae pollen mix, Artemisia vulgaris , Parietaria judaica , and Olea europaea pollen) and food allergens (i.e., egg, milk, and peanut) was diagnosed. Serum IgE levels were 2219 KU/l. Weight and height were appropriate for age and sex. The patient has been treated over 3 years with a combined scheme of high-dose inhaled fluticasone (up to 1000 μg/day) plus salmeterol (100 μg/day) and oral montelukast (5 mg/day), with correct inhaler technique and good adherence. Despite this, monthly hospital admissions with systemic steroids use were recorded. Rhinosinusitis and GER were excluded on the basis of appropriate testing; thus treatment with omalizumab was started when the patient was 9 years old. At age 11, adherence to treatment is satisfactory, with no side effects. More importantly, reduced hospital admissions for asthma exacerbations, no further need for systemic steroids, and improved QoL score (from 6.4 to 6.8) were reported. Finally, progressive step-down of anti-asthma treatment was started, and at present (by 11.5 years) inhaled fluticasone (200 μg/day) plus bimonthly subcutaneous omalizumab provide good control of symptoms. Omalizumab has been continuously administered for 2.6 years and is still ongoing.

A full-term male had severe preschool wheezing and, since age 4, recurrent, severe asthma exacerbations with frequent hospital admissions. At age 8, multiple perennial inhalants and food sensitization (i.e., house dust mites, dog dander, Graminaceae pollen mix, Olea europaea pollen, tomatoes, beans, shrimps, and peas) and high serum IgE levels (1166 KU/l) were found. The patient has been treated over 5 years with inhaled fluticasone (up to 1000 μg/day) in association with salmeterol (100 μg/day) and oral montelukast (5 mg/day). Despite this, monthly hospital admissions with systemic steroids need were recorded. After checking the inhaler technique and adherence to treatment, comorbidities including obesity, rhinosinusitis and GER were excluded. Omalizumab was proposed, but parents refused it. By 13.6 years, despite a treatment including the association of inhaled salmeterol/fluticasone (100 μg/1000 μg∙day − 1 , respectively) plus oral montelukast (10 mg/day), monthly exacerbations requiring systemic steroids are reported.

Discussion and conclusions

Most children and adolescents with asthma respond well to inhaled short-acting beta 2 -agonists (SABA) on demand if symptoms are intermittent, or to low dose controller drugs plus as-needed SABA if the risk of exacerbations increases [ 1 ]. Nevertheless, a proportion of patients is referred to specialists because this strategy is not working and asthma is persistently uncontrolled [ 4 ]. For these children, assessment is primarily aimed at investigating the reasons for poor control. Indeed, when the child is initially referred, before the label of “severe, therapy-resistant asthma” (i.e., not responding to treatment even when factors as exposure to allergens and tobacco smoke have been considered) is assigned, three main categories need to be identified: 1) “not asthma at all”, in which response to treatment is suboptimal because the diagnosis is wrong; 2) “asthma plus ”, when asthma is mild but exacerbated by one or more comorbidities; and 3) “difficult-to-treat asthma”, when asthma is uncontrolled because of potentially reversible factors [ 10 ].

The reported cases highlight some aspects of the disease process that may expand the diagnosis and improve patients’ care. At our institution, the severe asthma program includes a multidisciplinary approach with consultations by gastroenterologists as well as ear, nose and throat experts. Recently, sleep medicine experts joined this multidisciplinary team; thus, unfortunately, sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) could not be excluded at the time of our patients’ assessment. Inhalation technique is periodically evaluated by nurses or doctors in each patient. Unfortunately, in Italy an individual prescription database is not available and thus we cannot assess patients’ use of medication. In two cases, the filtering process eventually identified GER and rhinosinusitis, but poor control of asthma persisted even after comorbidities were treated. In all subjects, inhaler skills, treatment adherence, and environmental exposure to indoor/outdoor allergens as well as to second- and third-hand smoke were excluded as cause of lack of control. Eventually, three out of four patients started anti-IgE treatment; asthma control was obtained and maintenance drugs were progressively reduced. In the case that refused omalizumab therapy, pulmonary function, clinical features and controller treatment including high-dose ICS were unchanged.

Previous studies have highlighted an association between increasing asthma severity in children and reduced QoL [ 11 , 12 , 13 ]. Uncontrolled asthma symptoms not only affect children physically, but can impair them socially, emotionally, and educationally [ 13 ]. In line with previous observations, 3 out 4 of our cases had poor QoL, assessed by a standardized questionnaire [ 14 ]. It is well known that improving QoL in difficult asthma is not an easy task, despite a variety of treatments aimed at achieving control [ 12 ], and much more remains to be done to address the problem. Nevertheless, 2 of our 3 cases showed a remarkable improvement of QoL after one year of treatment with omalizumab.

Reduction in forced expiratory volume in the first second (FEV 1 ) is often used to define childhood asthma severity in treatment guidelines and clinical studies [ 5 , 11 , 15 ]. Nevertheless, children with severe asthma often have a normal FEV 1 that does not improve after bronchodilators, indicating that spirometry may be a poor predictor of asthma severity in childhood [ 6 , 16 , 17 ]. Actually, children with a normal FEV 1 , both before and after β 2 -agonist, may show a bronchodilator response in terms of forced expiratory flow between 25% and 75% (FEF 25–75 ) [ 18 ]. However, the utility of FEF 25–75 in the assessment or treatment of severe asthma is currently unknown. Interestingly, all the reported cases showed normal or slightly reduced values of FEV 1 but severe impairment of FEF 25–75 . Two cases showed a bronchodilator response in terms of FEV 1 (subjects 3 and 4), while 3 patients had a significant increase of FEF 25–75 (cases 1, 3 and 4). Unfortunately, we could not provide the results of bronchodilator response during or after the treatment with omalizumab in any case.

Available literature on the diagnostic approach to difficult asthma in children offers a number of reviews which basically summarize the steps needed to fill the gap between a generic diagnosis of “difficult asthma” and more specific labels (i.e., “severe” asthma, “difficult-to-treat” asthma, or even different diagnoses) [ 3 , 5 , 6 , 8 , 10 , 19 , 20 , 21 ]. So far, few original articles and case reports have been published, probably due to the peculiarity of the issue, which makes retrospective discussion of cases easier than the design of a prospective clinical study [ 4 , 22 , 23 , 24 , 25 , 26 ]. Available knowledge mainly derives from the experience of specialized centers.

The evaluation of a child referred for uncontrolled asthma should start with a careful history focused on typical respiratory symptoms and on the definition of possible triggers. In the “severe asthma” process, it is crucial for clinicians to maintain a high degree of skepticism about the ultimate diagnosis, particularly in the presence of relevant discrepancies between history, physical features and lung function, as many conditions may be misdiagnosed as asthma. In order to simplify this process, herein we propose an algorithm for the diagnosis of difficult-to-treat and severe asthma (Fig.  1 ). Confirmation of the diagnosis through a detailed clinical and laboratory re-evaluation is important because in 12–50% of cases assumed to have severe asthma this might not be the correct diagnosis [ 10 ]. Several documents have indicated the main steps of the process that should be followed in children with uncontrolled asthma [ 3 , 8 , 10 ]. The translation of these procedures into real life practice may deeply change from one subject to another due to the variability of individual patients’ history and clinical features, which will often lead the diagnostic investigations towards the most likely reason for uncontrolled asthma. For children with apparently severe asthma, the first step is to confirm the diagnosis and, before proceeding to broader investigations, to verify that the poor control is not simply determined by poor adherence to treatment, inadequate inhaler skills and/or environmental exposure to triggers. A nurse-led assessment, including a home visit, despite not being applicable in all settings, may be useful for identifying potentially modifiable factors in uncontrolled pediatric asthma [ 27 ].

A practical algorithm for the diagnosis of difficult-to-treat and severe asthma. ICS, inhaled corticosteroids; OCS, oral corticosteroids

A number of comorbidities have been increasingly recognized as factors that may impact asthma clinical expression and control in childhood [ 10 , 28 ]. Children with uncontrolled disease should be investigated for GER, rhinosinusitis, dysfunctional breathing and/or vocal cord dysfunction, obstructive sleep apnea, obesity, psychological factors, smoke exposure, hormonal influences, and ongoing drugs [ 3 , 6 , 8 , 20 ]. Indeed, the exact role played by comorbidities in pediatric asthma control is still debated [ 28 ]. The most impressive example is GER. Several pediatric documents recommend assessing for GER because reflux may be a contributing factor to problematic or difficult asthma [ 7 , 29 ]. Nevertheless, GER treatment might not be effective for severe asthma [ 30 , 31 ], as confirmed by current cases 1 and 2. There is an established evidence that chronic rhinosinusitis is associated with more severe asthma in children [ 32 , 33 , 34 ]. Therefore, examination of upper airways and ad hoc treatment if rhinosinusitis is evident are recommended in children with severe asthma [ 3 , 8 , 35 ]. However, intranasal steroids for rhinitis resulted in a small reduction of asthma risk in school-aged children [ 36 ], and actual placebo-controlled studies on the effect of treatment of rhinosinusitis on asthma control in children are lacking [ 10 , 37 ].

Dysfunctional breathing, including hyperventilation and vocal cord dysfunction, is associated with poorer asthma control in children [ 8 , 10 , 38 , 39 ]. Unfortunately, there is scarce literature on the effect of its treatment on the control of severe asthma in children [ 40 ]. SDB ranging from primary snoring to obstructive sleep apnea syndrome is very common in children [ 41 ], and an increased prevalence of SDB together with increasing asthma severity has been reported [ 42 ]. Interestingly, GER may also be worsened by recurrent episodes of upper airway obstruction associated with SDB, and this may further trigger bronchial obstruction. Asthma guidelines recommend the assessment of SDB through nocturnal polysomnography in poorly controlled asthmatics, particularly if they are also obese [ 5 ]. There are no studies examining whether pediatric asthma improves after SDB has been treated, for example, with nasal steroids, adenotonsillectomy, continuous positive airway pressure or weight reduction if the child is also obese [ 43 ]. The parallel increase in obesity and asthma suggests that the two conditions are linked and that they can aggravate each other [ 44 , 45 ], even though the exact mechanisms that underlie this association remain unclear [ 46 ]. Indeed, other coexisting comorbidities such as SDB or GER may play a confounding role in the development of the interactions between obesity and the airways [ 47 , 48 ]. Obesity is associated with increased markers of inflammation in serum and adipose tissue and yet decreased airway inflammation in obese people with asthma [ 49 ]. Several interventions, including behavioral and weight reduction programs or bariatric surgery, may result in improved asthma control, quality of life and lung function in adult obese asthmatics [ 50 ]. Although reports of adolescent bariatric surgery demonstrate a significant body weight decrease, this approach is not widely available and there are no published reports on its effect on pediatric severe asthma control [ 51 ]. Finally, although it is still unclear whether food allergy is causative or shares a common pathway with difficult asthma, it might explain the loss of asthma control at least in some children and thus be considered as a comorbid condition [ 10 , 16 , 52 ].

In conclusion, establishing the impact of comorbidities on asthma control may be cumbersome, and an ex-juvantibus treatment is sometimes necessary to assess their role. Comorbid conditions can also worsen each other, and symptoms arising from some of them may mimic asthma [ 6 ]. Although the ability to improve pediatric severe asthma by treating comorbidities remains unconfirmed, they should be treated appropriately [ 9 ].

The vast majority of asthmatic children exhibit a mild or at most a moderate disease that can be fully controlled with low-to-medium dose ICS associated or not with other controllers [ 5 , 6 ]. However, a subset of asthmatics remains difficult-to-treat [ 5 , 6 ]. With the advent of biologics, these severe steroid-dependent asthmatics have alternative options for treatment, as steroid-related adverse events are common in severe asthma [ 53 ]. Omalizumab, an anti-IgE monoclonal antibody, is the only biologic therapy recommended in children with moderate-to-severe asthma by the recent guidelines [ 5 , 6 ]. In Italy, this treatment is fully covered by the National Health System. Therefore, there is no influence by any funding on treatment decisions. It was approved by the US (Food and Drug Administration) in 2003 and by the European Union (European Medicines Agency) in 2005 as an add-on treatment for patients aged > 12 years with severe persistent allergic asthma and who have a positive skin test or in-vitro reactivity to a perennial aeroallergen, FEV 1  < 80% predicted, frequent daytime symptoms or nighttime awakenings, and multiple documented severe asthma exacerbations despite daily ICS plus a LABA [ 54 , 55 ]. In 2009, it also received approval in Europe for treating patients aged 6–12 years. Figure  2 illustrates current indications for treatment with omalizumab in children and adolescents with severe asthma.

Indications for omalizumab in children and adolescents with severe asthma

IgE antibodies, Th 2 -derived cytokines and eosinophils play a major role in the development of chronic airway inflammation in asthmatic subjects [ 56 ]. Once released from plasma cells, IgE binds principally to the high-affinity IgE receptor (FcεRI) on mast cells, triggering different effector responses, including the release of mediators leading to allergic inflammatory reactions [ 56 ]. The activation of the allergic cascade by IgE, under constant allergen stimulation, leads to the establishment of chronic allergic inflammation in the airways of asthmatic patients, with IgE being a key element of the vicious circle that maintains it. Cytokines produced during the late phase and subsequent chronic inflammation stage have been directly associated with the induction of airway remodelling, indirectly implicating IgE in the process [ 56 ]. At present, omalizumab is the only commercially available recombinant humanized anti-IgE monoclonal antibody that specifically binds serum free IgE at its CH 3 domain, in the proximity of the binding site for FcεRI, thus preventing IgE from interacting with its receptor on mast cells, basophils, antigen-presenting cells and other inflammatory cells [ 57 ]. The rapid reduction of free IgE levels leads to a downregulation of the FcεRI expression on inflammatory cells and an interruption of the allergic cascade, which results in the reduction of peripheral and bronchial tissue eosinophilia and of levels of granulocyte macrophage colony stimulating factor, interleukin (IL)-2, IL-4, IL-5, and IL-13 [ 58 ]. Moreover, basophils have a relevant role in the initiation and progression of allergic inflammation, suggesting that they may represent a viable therapeutic target. Indeed, in children with severe asthma, it has been reported that omalizumab therapy is associated with a significant reduction in circulating basophil numbers, a finding that is concurrent with improved clinical outcomes [ 59 ]. This finding supports a mechanistic link between IgE levels and circulating basophil populations, and may provide new insights into one mechanism by which omalizumab improves asthma symptoms.

Several clinical controlled and real-life studies of adults with severe, inadequately controlled allergic asthma have demonstrated the efficacy and safety of omalizumab in reducing asthma-related symptoms, corticosteroid use, exacerbation rates, and healthcare resource utilization, and in improving QoL and lung function [ 60 , 61 , 62 , 63 ]. Fewer studies have been published in children. In two double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials (RCTs) of children aged 6 to 12 years with moderate-to-severe allergic asthma, treatment with omalizumab reduced the requirement for ICS and protected against disease exacerbations, but there was little change in asthma symptom scores or spirometry [ 9 , 64 ]. These findings were confirmed and extended in older children [ 65 , 66 , 67 ].

The results of the ICATA study, a multicenter RCT of 419 inner-city children, adolescents and young adults with persistent allergic asthma, showed that, compared to placebo, omalizumab reduces the number of days with asthma symptoms and the proportion of participants with at least one exacerbation by approximately 25% and 19%, respectively ( p  < 0.001), thus reducing the need for asthmatic symptom controllers [ 68 ]. Another multicenter RCT of inner-city children and adolescents showed that the addition of omalizumab to ongoing guidelines-based care before patients return to school reduces fall asthma exacerbations (odds ratio, 0.48), particularly in subjects with a recent exacerbation [ 69 ]. Moreover, in a real-life study of 104 children and adolescents with severe allergic refractory asthma followed over 1 year, treatment with omalizumab resulted in good asthma control in 67% of the cases ( p  < 0.001), while FEV 1 improved by 4.9% ( p  = 0.02) and exacerbation rates and healthcare utilisation decreased approximately by 30% ( p  < 0.001) [ 70 ]. The same authors also showed that, after two years of treatment, exacerbation rate and healthcare utilisation were further decreased by 83% and 100%, respectively, while level of asthma control, steroid use and lung function remained unchanged [ 71 ].

A systematic review of pediatric RCTs pooled the data of 1381 children and adolescents with moderate-to-severe allergic asthma in order to establish the efficacy of omalizumab as an add-on therapy [ 72 ]. During the stable-steroid phase, omalizumab decreased the number of patients with at least one exacerbation (risk ratio, 0.69; p  < 0.001), the mean number of asthma exacerbations per patient (risk ratio, 0.35; p  < 0.001), and the asthma symptom score (mean difference, 0.12; p  = 0.005) when compared to placebo. During the steroid reduction phase, omalizumab further reduced the number of patients with at least one exacerbation (risk ratio, 0.48; p  < 0.001) and the mean number of asthma exacerbations per patient (mean difference, 0.12; p  < 0.05).

Given the cost of omalizumab, many authors have argued for the importance of identifying specific asthma populations who will have significant benefit from it [ 68 , 73 , 74 ]. In the ICATA study, baseline predictors of good response to treatment were sensitization and exposure to cockroach allergen, sensitization to house dust mite allergens, a serum IgE level of more than 100 IU per milliliter, a BMI of 25 or more, and a history of at least one unscheduled medical visit in the previous year [ 68 ].

Several studies have assessed the long-term safety of omalizumab in children and adults. A pooled analysis of 67 RCTs conducted over 2 decades on 4254 children and adults treated with omalizumab showed no association between omalizumab treatment and risk of malignancy [ 75 ]. In an RCT evaluating 225 school-aged children, omalizumab was well tolerated, there were no serious adverse events, and the frequency and types of all adverse events were similar to the placebo group [ 9 ]. These results have been further confirmed by a recent systematic review of RCTs that concluded that treatment with omalizumab does not result in increased risk of malignancy or hypersensitivity reactions [ 72 ].

While the rationale for long-term treatment with omalizumab is supported by pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamic models [ 76 ], the duration of treatment is still under discussion. Results from published studies suggest that omalizumab should be continued for > 1 year [ 77 , 78 ]. In a retrospective study of adults and children with uncontrolled severe asthma treated with omalizumab, the response to treatment was ‘excellent’ in 52.5% of patients, particularly in the subgroup of children aged 6 to 11 years [ 77 ]. After the discontinuation of treatment, loss of asthma control was documented in 69.2% of the patients who had received omalizumab for < 1 year, 59.1% of the subjects treated for 1–2 years, and 46.1% of the cases treated for > 2 years. Time to loss of control was shorter in younger children and longer in patients with an ‘excellent’ response compared with patients with a ‘good’ response. No early loss of control (within 6 months) was observed among patients with > 3.5 years of continuous treatment with omalizumab. Finally, 20% of patients in whom omalizumab was re-prescribed because of loss of control did not respond to the treatment anymore [ 77 ]. Despite these encouraging findings, the impact of omalizumab on the natural history of severe asthma in children deserves to be further investigated by long-term studies that will also define the criteria and timing for discontinuing the treatment.

It is well known that asthma pharmacotherapy is effective in controlling symptoms and bronchial inflammation, but cannot affect the underlying immune response, thus leading to the possibility of symptom reappearance after its discontinuation [ 79 ]. In this scenario, allergen-specific immunotherapy (AIT) has been proposed as the only therapeutic method that can modulate the underlying immune pathophysiology in allergic asthma [ 80 ].

AIT is currently indicated in children and adults with mild-moderate allergic asthma that is completely or partially controlled by pharmacotherapy and with the evidence of a clear relationship between symptoms and exposure to a specific allergen [ 81 , 82 , 83 , 84 ]. However, according to recent guidelines, the efficacy of AIT in asthmatic subjects is limited, and its potential benefits must be weighed against the risk of side effects and the inconvenience and costs of the prolonged therapy [ 5 ]. Moreover, severe or uncontrolled asthma (regardless of its severity) is a major independent risk factor for non-fatal or even fatal adverse reactions, thus representing a contraindication for AIT [ 85 , 86 , 87 ]. Finally, children with severe asthma are often sensitized to multiple allergens, thus making AIT prescription even more complicated [ 88 ].

In subjects with uncontrolled and/or severe allergic asthma, a combination of omalizumab and AIT has been proposed [ 88 ]. Surprisingly, only a few studies have addressed this issue [ 89 , 90 , 91 , 92 ]. However, pre-treatment with omalizumab seems to improve the efficacy and tolerability of subcutaneous AIT in children and adults with severe allergic asthma both during omalizumab treatment and after its discontinuation [ 89 , 91 , 92 ]. Omalizumab has also been successfully used as a supplementary treatment to AIT in order to improve asthma control in children ≥6 years with severe persistent allergic asthma [ 90 ]. Given the scarcity of studies on AIT plus omalizumab in children with severe allergic asthma, further research is warranted to assess risks and benefits of the combined treatment.

Children with severe asthma require a detailed and individualized approach including re-assessment for differential diagnoses, comorbidities and contributory factors, environmental triggers, lung function and inflammation, adherence and response to therapy, and QoL. Treatment of pediatric severe asthma still relies on the maximal optimal use of corticosteroids, bronchodilators and other controllers recommended for moderate-to-severe disease. However, the management of asthma is becoming much more patient-specific, as more and more is learned about the biology behind the development and progression of asthma.

In the current paper, we described the characteristics of four children with severe asthma in whom omalizumab was prescribed. A review of the relevant literature on the topic was also performed. Finally, we provided an algorithm for the diagnosis of difficult-to-treat and severe asthma in children and adolescents, based on the evidence from the literature review. As all algorithms, it is not meant to replace clinical judgment, but it should drive physicians to adopt a systematic approach towards difficult and severe asthma and provide a useful guide to the clinician.

The addition of omalizumab, the first targeted biological treatment approved for asthma, has led to renewed optimism of outcome improvements in patients with allergic severe asthma. As severe asthma is a heterogeneous condition consisting of different phenotypes, the future of asthma management will likely involve phenotypic and potentially even genotypic characterization in selected cases in order to determine appropriate therapy and thus to provide the highest possible benefit, especially if specific responder phenotypes can be identified and selected for this highly specific treatment.


Anti-immunoglobulin E

Body mass index

IgE receptor

Forced expiratory flow between 25% and 75%

Forced expiratory volume in the first second

Gastroesophageal reflux

Inhaled corticosteroids

Intensive care unit


Long-acting β 2 -agonist

Oral leukotriene receptor antagonist

Quality of life

Randomized controlled trials

Short-acting β 2 -agonists

Sleep-disordered breathing

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The authors gratefully thank Dr. Marco Maglione for his contribution in the clinical assessment of the described cases. Medical writing assistance was provided by Stephen Walters on behalf of City Hills Proofreading.

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Virginia Mirra, Silvia Montella & Francesca Santamaria

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Mirra, V., Montella, S. & Santamaria, F. Pediatric severe asthma: a case series report and perspectives on anti-IgE treatment. BMC Pediatr 18 , 73 (2018).

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  • Severe asthma
  • Adolescents
  • Asthma exacerbations

BMC Pediatrics

ISSN: 1471-2431

case study for asthma patient

YES WE CAN Children’s Asthma Program

This case study was prepared for CDC by Dr. LaMar Palmer of MAS Consultants. The purpose of the case study is to share the experience of one community as they attempt to address the problem of asthma. It does not represent an endorsement of this approach by CDC.

YES WE CAN Children’s Asthma Program: Patient and Family Education

The asthma education program is administered at the clinic during scheduled visits and reinforced during home visits. The instruction is based on the current asthma knowledge and understanding of the individual child and caregiver. The asthma team members providing patient and family education learn quickly what families know by asking questions. Education is interactive and is also tailored to each child’s circumstances while based on sound educational theory and experience. Messages are simple and limited to no more than three topics each visit. Asthma education also teaches skills the child and caregiver need to administer medications, avoid triggers, and improve environmental conditions in the home. Education also includes problem-solving skills aimed at improving patient and caregiver abilities to make the behavior changes required to achieve and maintain better control of the child’s asthma.

The NAEPP guidelines consider patient education as one of the four cornerstones of asthma management. These guidelines recommend five key educational messages for patients, and all are included in the YES WE CAN program.

Basic Facts About Asthma

  • The contrast between asthmatic and normal airways
  • What happens to the airways in an asthma attack

Roles of Medications

  • Long-term control: medications that prevent symptoms, often by reducing inflammation
  • Quick relief: short-acting bronchodilator relaxes muscles around airways
  • The importance of long-term control medications, and why they differ from quick relief
  • Inhaler use (patient demonstrates)
  • Spacer/holder chamber use
  • Symptom monitoring, peak flow monitoring, and recognizing early signs of deterioration

Environmental Control Measures

  • Identifying and avoiding environmental precipitants or exposure

When and How to Take Rescue Actions

  • Responding to changes in asthma, using the Asthma Action Plan

Instruction includes asthma management skills and skill demonstrations.

Chronic conditions such as asthma require day-to-day self-management that can be time consuming and inconvenient. To help patients make health behavior changes, the instruction is designed to foster patient self-efficacy or confidence to apply the knowledge and skills routinely each day. Instruction also emphasizes patient and caregiver skills and the demonstration of those skills to verify the child’s ability to properly use the MDI, spacer, and peak flow meter, and the caregiver’s ability to properly use the Asthma Action Plan.

The instruction mirrors the team approach to addressing asthma.

The instruction mirrors the active partnership philosophy established and maintained between the asthma team and the caregiver and child. The asthma team recognizes that the child and the family are the primary asthma care providers. Whereas the health care professionals are experts on asthma, the family is the expert on fitting asthma self-management into their daily life. The asthma team supports the family in this role, and health care decisions are made together. Caregivers are prompted to discuss the impact of asthma on the family and on the child’s activities and emotions, and to discuss the challenges and barriers faced in managing the child’s asthma day after day. Education is part of the team effort to help the family define their desired outcomes and actions needed to achieve those outcomes.

Asthma education is based on an assessment of the family’s needs.

Education is tailored to each family. Tailoring education saves time, makes the encounter more effective, and improves family satisfaction with the care. Factors considered when tailoring the education include:

  • current asthma knowledge and skill levels
  • cultural background
  • educational level
  • literacy level
  • learning disabilities
  • readiness to learn
  • level of “life skills”
  • coping abilities
  • psychosocial issues

Learning and behavior change are considered processes and not events.

Acquiring knowledge and understanding and applying skills related to the learning takes time. Asthma self-management education requires behavior changes on the part of the child (primarily medication adherence) and the family (primarily changing environmental conditions in the home). Encouragement for the learners and reinforcement of key behaviors are important to the family and the child’s ability to sustain behavior changes. Repetition of key learning points, review of patient knowledge and understanding, skill demonstrations, and feedback are all required to ensure that the patient and caregiver fully grasp and internalize the educational messages. Every member of the asthma team takes part in promoting self-management education. Although the clinical case manager has overall responsibility, the CHW and the clinician instruct, review, and reinforce learning whenever they are in contact with the family. Checklists and other job aids are used to guide the review process.

Patient and family education is based on best practice guides.

The goal of the asthma education lessons is to provide consistent, evidence-based patient education that is presented efficiently, effectively, and in an interactive manner. Each lesson conforms to a common format that includes:

  • guideline information comprised of key points and recommendations for each topic
  • key messages for the child and the family
  • strategies for interactively delivering the key messages
  • resources, handouts, visual aids, patient educational materials.

Asthma education lessons

There are 18 asthma education lessons. Lesson titles include:

  • What Is Asthma?
  • Long-Term Control Medications–Inhaled Corticosteroids
  • Long-Term Control Medications–Long–Acting Bronchodilator
  • Long-Term Control Medications–Long–Action Bronchodilator: Theophylline
  • Long-Term Control Medications–Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists
  • Long-Term Control Medications-Cromolyn Sodium and Nedocromil Sodium
  • Quick-Relief Medication: Albuterol
  • Quick-Relief Medications: Anticholinergics
  • The family receives instruction on the asthma medications prescribed for their child.
  • Peak Flow and Symptom Monitoring
  • Finding the Personal Best Peak Flow
  • Understanding Asthma Action Plans
  • Correct Use of MDI and Spacer Devices
  • Correct Use of a Dry Powder Inhaler
  • Medication: Reading Prescription Labels and Getting Results
  • Medication: Tracking Puffs in a Canister
  • Identifying and Controlling Asthma Triggers
  • Recognizing and Managing Severe Asthma Episodes
  • Physical Activity: Exercise and Asthma   Top of Page

Twitter icon

Follow @CDCasthma on Twitter to learn more about helping people with asthma live healthier lives by gaining control over their asthma.

  • Asthma Action Plan
  • America Breathing Easier pdf [PDF – 1.1 MB]
  • ASL Asthma Film
  • Asthma Clinical Guidelines

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  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cannot attest to the accuracy of a non-federal website.
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  • You will be subject to the destination website's privacy policy when you follow the link.
  • CDC is not responsible for Section 508 compliance (accessibility) on other federal or private website.


Case of Acute Severe Asthma

Kane guthrie.

  • Dec 2, 2022

A 25-year-old lady Miss. Poor Compliance is rushed into your Emergency Department as a Priority 1. She is a brittle asthmatic and has been given 3x 5mg salbutamol nebs, and 0.5mg of adrenaline IM prehospital. On arrival Miss PC is sitting forward in the tripod position , using her accessory muscles to breath. She is tachypnoeic, agitated and unable to talk.

Vital signs: Pulse 143, BP 138/95, RR 42, Sp02 91% on neb, GCS 14/15.

Past Medical and Medication History

  • Smoker. Severe asthmatic. Intubated twice in past 2 years
  • Currently taking seritide 250/50mg, salbutamol MDI PRN and prednisolone 50mg PRN

Asthma Epidemiology

  • Over 2.2 million Australians have currently diagnosed asthma
  • 406 deaths attributed to asthma in 2006
  • Highest risk of dying from asthma is in the elderly over 70
  • The emergency clinician’s goal in treating acute severe asthma is preventing intubation
  • Severe/Critical asthma is a life threatening condition

Asthma Pathophysiology

  • Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways in which many cells and cellular elements play a role, in particular, mast cells, eosinophils, T lymphocytes, macrophages, neutrophils, and epithelial cells.
  • Smooth muscle hypertrophy and hyperplasia
  • Inflammatory cell infiltration and oedema
  • Goblet cell and mucous gland hyperplasia with mucous hypersecretion
  • Protein deposition including collagen
  • Epithelial desquamation
  • Most common, responsible for 80-85% of all fatal events is characterised by eosinophilic inflammation associated with gradual deterioration over days-weeks occurring in patients with severe or poorly controlled asthma, and is slow to respond to therapy.
  • The second phenotype, with neutrophilic inflammation, has both rapid onset and response to therapy.

Markers of severe asthma:

  • Inability to speak in full sentences
  • Use of accessory muscles or tracheal tugging
  • Cyanosis and sweating
  • Pulsus paradoxus (>15mmHg decreased with inspiration). With severe muscle fatigue might be absent
  • Quiet chest on auscultation (The “Silent Chest”)
  • Confusion or decreased level of consciousness
  • Hypotension or bradycardia
  • FEV 1<40% predicted
  • PEF <40% of predicted or best (<25% in life threatening asthma)
  • Oxygen saturation <90-92%
  • PaO2 <60mmHg
  • PaCO2 >45mmHg

Complications of Asthma :

  • Pneumothorax, Pneumomediastinum, Pneumopericardium and Pneumoretroperitoneum
  • Cardiac Arrhythmias, Myocardial ischaemia or infarction
  • Electrolyte disturbances (hypokalaemia, hypomagnesaemia, hypophosphataemia)
  • Lactic Acidosis
  • Hyperglycaemia

Pneumomediastinum in asthmatic

Conditions that may mimic acute asthma:

  • Upper airway obstruction
  • Foreign-body aspiration
  • Vocal cord dysfunction syndrome
  • Pulmonary oedema
  • Acute exacerbations of COPD
  • Hysterical conversion reaction
  • Munchausen syndrome

Diagnostic Test:

  • Hyperinflation 5-10%
  • Infiltrate 5%
  • Pneumothorax <1%
  • Pneumomediastinum <1%
  • Respiratory alkalosis typical
  • Inaccurate predictor of outcome
  • Will seldom alter your treatment plan
  • An objective measure of lung function
  • Useful to assess response to treatment
  • Impossible to obtain in the dying patient
  • <25% Severe
  • 25-50% Moderate
  • 50-70% Mild
  • >70% Discharge Goal
  • Simple, and less painful than ABG
  • Provides continuous oxygenation measurements
  • Needs to placed on well-perfused site, difficult to obtain readings if global hypoperfusion or peripheral vasoconstriction present.
  • Aim to keep sp02 >92%

Management of Acute Severe Asthma

  • Hypoxia is the main cause of death in asthma
  • Oxygen should be given to keep Sp02 above 92%
  • A slight Pco2 rise may occur with oxygen therapy but this is of no clinical significance.


  • Rapid acting inhaled beta-agonists (bronchodilators) are the first line therapy for acute asthma.
  • Nebulisers should generally be used in acute severe asthma, as provide easier delivery of medication to patient, multi dose inhalers have a role in mild to moderate asthma.
  • IV salbutamol gives you the advantage of hitting the beta 2 receptors from the back door, while continuing nebulizer treatment, and should be trialed in patients not responding to nebulisers.
  • Continuous nebuliser therapy appears to be more effective than intermittent nebulisers for delivering beta-agonist drugs to relieve airway spasm in acute severe asthma.  (Cochrane Review, 2009)
  • Salbutamol toxicity can caused a lactic acidosis which is often unrecognized in asthma patients, the lactic acidosis has been hypothesized to adversely affect ventilation by increasing ventilatory demand, increasing dead space ventilation, worsening dynamic hyperinflation and intrinsic PEEP. Management is to discontinue salbutamol at the earliest opportunity.
  • Dose:  Salbutamol Nebuliser Ampoule 5mg
  • Dose: Salbutamol IV 5mg in 500mL of 0.9% sodium chloride or 5% dextrose start at 30mL/hr titrating up to 120mL/hr


  • Anticholinergics agents block muscarinic receptors in airway smooth muscles, inhibit vagal cholinergic tone and result in bronchodilation.
  • Dose: Ipratropium bromide (Atrovent) 500ug to second dose of salbutamol via neb, can be repeated every 4hours
  • Use of corticosteroids within 1 hour of presentation to an ED significantly reduces the need for hospital admission in patients with acute asthma. Benefits appear greatest in patients with more severe asthma, and those not currently receiving steroids
  • Dose: Prednisolone 50mg PO
  • Dose: IV Hydrocortisone 100-200mg
  • Note: Parenteral route is indicated in ventilated patient or patient unable to swallow, eg. Vomiting


  • Can be give either intravenously or via nebulizer
  • Bronchoconstriction is the major pathology in asthma; airway oedema might also make a significant contribution. Both the a-agonist and B-agonist effects of adrenaline might be beneficial, with the alpha effect decreasing oedema and the beta effect responsible for bronchodilation.
  • Dose:  IV 6mg in 100mls 5% dextrose start at 1-15mLs/hour
  • Dose: Nebulizer 1mg in 3ml normal saline


  • The popularity of aminophylline in asthma exacerbations has diminished in recent years.
  • Systematic reviews have shown that IV aminophylline in severe acute asthma does not produce additional bronchodilation above that achieved with beta-agonist and corticosteroids.
  • Side effects; cardiac arrhythmia’s, vomiting, toxicity.
  • Dose : 5mg/kg over 20min followed by infusion of 500mg aminophyline n 500mL of 5% dextrose at 0.5mg/kg per hour

Magnesium Sulphate:

  • Magnesium potential role is asthma may involve a combination of smooth muscle relaxation, inhibition of histamine release and acetylcholine release from nerve endings.
  • Most evidence to support the use of magnesium in asthma is in the acute severe asthmatic were it has been shown to be safe and beneficial.
  • Dose : IV 2-4g over 30-60mins
  • Heliox Mixture 80% helium/20% oxygen
  • There is evidence that helium and oxygen mixtures (heliox) may provide additional benefits to patients with acute asthma.
  • Heliox mixtures have the potential to decrease airway resistance, and therefore decrease the work of breathing for the severe acute asthma patient.


  • Antibiotics are not indicated in the management of severe acute asthma.
  • Antibiotics should only be used in the setting of an underlying pneumonia, respiratory tract infection or to aid in the prevention of ventilator-associated pneumonia in ICU.

Airway Management

Non-Invasive Positive Pressure Ventilation:

Good quality evidence and trails to support the use of NPPV in asthma are lacking, however it is worth trying when intubation is not immediately indicated. Remember the goal of the emergency clinician’s in treating asthma is to prevent intubation.

  • Positive pressure is generally less than 15cmH2O
  • Benefit between CPAP vs BiPAP is unknown
  • Tachypnea caused by severe asthma can make it difficult for the patient to coordinate they’re breathing with machine making BiPAP uncomfortable
  • Need a large randomised control trial to determine the effectives properly of NIV, in acute severe asthma.

“Asthmatic on BiPAP before being Intubated”

Mechanical Ventilation:

1-3% of acute severe asthma requires intubation. Prevention of intubation and mechanical ventilation are the goals of managing acute severe asthma, this can be achieved by maximising pre-intubation therapy, however you don’t want to wait too long or let the severe asthmatic tire before trying to intubate them. Once an asthmatic is intubated and ventilated their morbidity and mortality increasing dramatically, and it can be difficult to wean from the ventilator.

Criteria for Intubation:

  • Cardiac or Respiratory arrest
  • Altered mental status
  • Progressive exhaustion
  • Severe hypoxia despite maximal oxygen delivery
  • Failure to reverse severe respiratory acidosis despite intensive therapy
  • pH <7.2, carbon dioxide pressure increasing by more than 5mmHg/hr or greater than 55 to 70mm/Hg, or oxygen pressure of less than 60mm/Hg.


  • Effective pre-oxygenation impossible
  • No margin for error or delay
  • Need to be intubated by most experienced person available
  • High intrathoracic pressure after RSI


  • Fluid bolus before intubation if possible
  • RSI preferred
  • Ketamine for bronchodilator effects
  • Permissive hypercapnea essential

Initial Ventilator settings in paralysed patients:

  • FiO2 1.0, then titrate to keep SpO2 >94%
  • Tidal Volume 5-6ml/kg
  • Ventilator rate 6-8 breaths/min
  • Long expiratory time (I:E ratio >1:2)
  • Minimal PEEP < 5cmH2O
  • Limit peak inspiratory pressure to <40cmH2O
  • Target plateau pressure <20cmH2O
  • Ensure effective humidification

  • Brenner, B. Corbridge, T. & Kazzi, A. (2009). Intubation and mechanical ventilation of the asthmatic patient in respiratory failure. The Journal of Emergency Medicine. 37(2s), s23-s34.
  • Camargo, C. Rachelefsky, G. & Schatz, M. (2009). Managing Asthma Exacerbation in the Emergency Department: Summary of the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Expert Panel Report 3 Guidelines for the Management of Asthma Exacerbation.The Journal of Emergency Medicine. 37 (2S), S6-S17.
  • Camargo, C. Spooner, C. & Rowe, B. (2009). Continuous versus intermittent beta-agonist for acute asthma (Review).
  • Chua, F. & Lai, D. (2007). Acute severe asthma: Triage, treatment and thereafter. Current Anaesthesia & Critical Care. 18, 61-68.
  • Creagh-Brown, B. & Ball, J. (2007). An under-recognized complication of treatment of acute severe asthma. American Journal of Emergency Medicine. 26, 513-515.
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  • Holley, A. & Boots, R.(2009). Review article: Management of acute severe and near-fatal asthma. Emergency Medicine Australasia, (21) 259-268.
  • Jones, L. & Goodacre, S. (2009). Magnesium sulphate in the treatment of acute asthma: evaluation of current practice in adult emergency departments. Emergency Medicine Journal. 26, 783-785.
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  • Morris, F. & Fletcher, A. (Ed). (2009). ABC of Emergency Differential Diagnosis. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing
  • National Asthma Council of Australia. Asthma management handbook: 2006. Accessed, 12/02/2010
  • Nowak, R. Corbridge, T. & Brenner, B. (2009). Noninvasive Ventilation. The Journal of Emergency Medicine. 37(2S), S18-S22.
  • Peters, S. (2007). Continuous Bronchodilator Therapy. Chest. 131(1),1-5.
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  • Rodrigo, G. Pollack, C. Rodrigo, C. Rowe, B. (2010). Heliox for non-intubated acute asthma patents (Review).
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Finding the Right Approach to Treating Asthma

A q&a with sandra zaeh, sandra zaeh, md.

Sandra Zaeh, MD , is interested in improving clinical outcomes for patients with asthma. In recent research, she found that current guideline-based asthma treatment is implemented less than 15 percent of the time for moderate to severe asthma due to various factors, including a lack of knowledge about the proper treatment approach.

In the next few months, as a newly promoted assistant professor of medicine in the Yale Department of Internal Medicine Section of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, Zaeh will lead the recruitment of subjects from the Yale Center for Asthma and Airways Disease for a study in collaboration with Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, the study aims to improve the quality of care for patients at risk of asthma attacks.

In an interview, Zaeh discusses the basics of asthma, different approaches to treating the inflammatory condition, and why controlling asthma is of the utmost importance to asthma physicians and pulmonologists.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease in which the bronchial airways in the lungs get narrowed and swollen, making it difficult to breathe. People with asthma can feel fine for some time, and then a trigger can cause an asthma attack, which can lead to significant health repercussions. Asthma disproportionately affects Black and Latinx people, low-income populations, and other groups.

How does asthma affect quality of life?

Uncontrolled asthma with frequent exacerbations can cause adults to miss days of work and children to miss school. Asthma can impact your ability to breathe on a day-to-day basis. It can lead to hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and, in some cases, fatality.

How is asthma treated?

For the past several decades, the treatment paradigm for asthma has involved control and relief medications. Controller therapy usually includes an inhaled corticosteroid that you take one to two times a day to control your symptoms. You take a reliever therapy between controller doses to minimize asthma symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing. The traditional reliever therapy has been albuterol, a short-acting bronchodilator that quickly opens the airways.

Interestingly, the data now supports a slightly different management strategy. The big update in asthma management is the introduction of anti-inflammatory reliever therapy for asthma. Current guidelines promote the use of the same inhaler for both control and relief for moderate to severe asthma, with a combination of an inhaled steroid and a quick-acting, long-acting beta agonist called formoterol. This approach is called SMART, or Single Maintenance and Reliever Therapy, because one inhaler does the job that two inhalers used to do.

Tell us about your study involving patients at risk of asthma attacks.

Even though SMART is currently guideline-based care, we’re having difficulty implementing this approach in clinical practice. There are similar, alternative approaches that may be better for certain patients. One of those approaches, which will be tested in this study, is PARTICS, or Patient Activated Reliever-Triggered Inhaled CorticoSteroids. Every time PARTICS patients use their albuterol inhaler, they’re asked to use one puff of inhaled steroid. When they use their albuterol nebulizer as a reliever, they're asked to use five puffs of inhaled steroid. It’s different than SMART because the approach uses more than one inhaler and incorporates the use of nebulizers as relievers.

Many people in the U.S. use an albuterol nebulizer as a reliever because they feel it works more effectively. The PARTICS approach incorporates those individuals.

Studied in Black and Latinx patients with moderate to severe asthma a few years ago, PARTICS was shown to reduce severe asthma exacerbations and improve asthma control and quality of life. Our study compares PARTICS to SMART, the current standard of care. The idea of the study is to test to see if the two approaches are equally effective or if one is more effective than the other.

What do you hope to accomplish through this research?

It’s important to have different asthma management approaches that can be used and tailored for each patient based on needs and preferences. For example, PARTICS is perhaps more appropriate than SMART for people who use nebulizers as their reliever. PARTICS may be more effective or better covered by insurance for some people.

Whether PARTICS or SMART, these approaches are the future of asthma management. By studying these different anti-inflammatory reliever approaches, we can improve implementation and use these therapies more efficaciously.

The more options we have to treat asthma, the better.

The Section of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine is one of the eleven sections within Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine. To learn more about Yale-PCCSM, visit PCCSM's website , or follow them on Facebook and Twitter .

  • Internal Medicine
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Featured in this article

  • Sandra Zaeh, MD, MS Instructor
  • Open access
  • Published: 03 April 2020

Determinants of Acute Asthma Attack among adult asthmatic patients visiting hospitals of Tigray, Ethiopia, 2019: case control study

  • Melaku Negash 1 ,
  • Hagos Tsegabrhan 2 ,
  • Teklit Meles 3 ,
  • Degena Bahrey Tadesse 1 ,
  • Gebreamlak Gidey 4 ,
  • Yemane Berhane 5 ,
  • Kibrom Berhanu 6 &
  • Tsgalem Haylemaryam 7  

Asthma Research and Practice volume  6 , Article number:  1 ( 2020 ) Cite this article

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Acute asthma attack is one of the most common causes of visits to hospital emergency departments in all age groups of the population and accounts for the greater part of healthcare burden from the disease. Despite, Acute asthma attack is an important public health problem that affects not only the patients, but also to the family, health professionals, health care institutions and development of the nation, little is known about the risk factors of acute asthma attack.

Therefore, this study is aimed to investigate the determinants of acute asthma attack among.

The aim of this study was to assess the determinant factors of acute asthma attack among adult asthmatic patients visiting general hospitals of central zone, Tigray, Ethiopia, 2019.

Hospital based unmatched case control study design was conducted in general hospitals of central zone of Tigray, Ethiopia 2019. Data were collected using pretested interviewer administered questionnaire. A total of 289 study subjects (96 cases &193 controls) were selected by systematic random sampling. Data were entered to Epi data version 3.1 then exported to SPSS version 23 for analysis. Bivariate logistic regression was employed to examine the statistical association between dependent and independent variables. Variables with p value < 0.25 in binary logistic regression were entered to multivariable logistic regression model and variables with p value < 0.05 was taken as significant determinants of the outcome variable.

A total of 96 adult asthmatic patients who have acute asthma attack (cases) and 193 adult asthmatic patients without attack (controls)) with 100% response rate were participated in this study. Upper Respiratory tract Infection [AOR = 6.835,95% CI = 3.285,14.222], Season [AOR =2.204,95% CI = 1.011,4.805] kitchen smoke [AOR = 2.307,95%CI1.010,5.272]& sleep apnea [AOR = 9.254, 5%CI =3.563,25.460] were significantly associated with acute asthma exacerbation.

Asthma is a long-term inflammatory disease of the respiratory system which is characterized by wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness. Globally it affects approximately 300 million people and is estimated to rise to 400 million by 2025 globally [ 1 , 2 ]. And it is ranked 16th among the leading causes of disability and 28th among the leading causes of burden of disease, as measured by disability adjusted life years (DALYs) [ 3 ].

According to Croatian medical journal 2013, an estimate of asthma prevalence in Africa, was 49.7 million in the age of < 15 years (13.9%), < 45 years 102.9 million (13.8%), and in total population 119.3 million (12.8%) in 2010 [ 4 ].

Asthma exacerbation is defined as a worsening of shortness of breath, cough, wheezing, or chest tightness. If not treated immediately there will be increase in flow resistance causing increased work of breathing, gas exchange inefficiency, respiratory muscle tiredness and finally hypercapnic and hypoxemic respiratory failure [ 5 ]. This implies that acute asthma attack is a significant public health problem that affects patients with their parents or families and the community through labor and school loss, frequent emergency clinic visits, a poor quality of life hospitalizations and finally death [ 6 ]. According to Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) report, More than 11 million people reported having an acute asthma attack [ 7 ].

Despite, in Ethiopia little is known about how risk factors are associated with exacerbation, according to asthma severity and the relative importance of the risk factors. This may be the reason for no policy and strategy to ascertain and acting out of effective intervention in order to reduce the burden of acute asthma attack [ 8 ]. Therefore, this study is aimed to full fill this gap.

Study setting and study design

Hospital based unmatched case control study was conducted in the selected general Hospitals of Central zone of Tigray from November 2018 to July 2019.

Study population and sample size determination

Source population.

All adult asthmatic patients visited to emergency unit who have acute asthma attack.

All adult patients diagnosed as asthma but without acute asthmatic attack who visited the OPD and the regular follow-up unit during the data collection period.

Study population

All selected adult asthmatic patients visited to emergency unit who have acute asthma attack during the data collection period.

All selected adult patients diagnosed as asthma but without acute asthmatic attack who visited the OPD and the regular follow-up unit during the data collection period.

Eligibility criteria

Inclusion criteria.

Adult asthmatic patients who have acute asthma attack during the data collection period.

Adult asthmatic patient without acute asthma attack during the data collection period.

Exclusion criteria

Patients with any history of pulmonary embolism, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, active pulmonary TB, known congestive heart failure and known mechanical obstruction.

Sample size determination

Sample size was calculated from Previous study conducted in Uganda [ 9 ],using Epi info version 7. sample size was determined based on the assumption of confidence level = 95%; Power = 80%; Odds ratio = 2.132 with case to control ratio = 1:2, proportion of among controls 37.2%, proportion of among cases = 55.8%.

Therefore, the required sample size for cases was =92 where as for the controls =183 and the overall sample size was = 275 then after adding 5% non-response rate, the total sample size was 289. Finally, a sample size for cases was 96 and for controls 193.

Sampling technique and procedure

The total sample size was allocated to each hospital proportionally based on the number of patients who attend in the selected hospitals. A total number of 585(case 165, control.420) patients attended at the selected Hospitals with in 2 months of the previous year (April 1 to May 30–2018). Systematic random sampling method was applied in each hospital to select 289 participants.

Study Variables

Dependent variable.

Acute asthma attack.

Independent variables

Socio-demographic variables.

Age, Gender, Marital status, Residence, Educational level, Employment status and Occupational status.

Behavioral factors

Exercise, vigorous activity Smoking cigarette.

Environmental factors

Humidity, Kitchen smoke, dust, Season.

Medical and Clinical characteristics

URTI, Sleep apnea, Missing follow-up / appointments,

Operational definitions

Those who present with cough, wheezing and difficulty of breathing and diagnosed asthma by physician [ 10 ].

Acute Asthma Attack

Those who present with worsening of wheezing, shortness of breath, cough, chest tightness and diagnosed as acute asthma attack by physician [ 10 ].

Smoker:( daily smoker and non-daily smoker) those who currently smokes or those who quit smoking less than 1 year before the assessment [ 10 ].

Passive smoker: Smoke inhaled involuntarily by non-smokers [ 11 ].

Nonsmoker: Respondents who report never smoke those who quit smoking greater than 1 year before the assessment.

Vigorous activity: participants doing activity more than 10 min continuously, that increases breathing, like carrying or lifting heavy loads, digging or construction work, cutting fire wood [ 11 ].

Data collection tool

Structured questionnaire was used to collect the data which was adapted from different literatures [ 9 , 12 , 13 , 14 ]. The questionnaire contains four parts: socio-demographic, environmental factors, behavioral factors, and Medical &Clinical characteristics.

Data collection procedures

Data were collected from cases and controls using structured questionnaire and checklists through face-to-face interview and from patients chart review respectively.

Twelve BSc nurses as data collectors and three senior nurse supervisors were recruited for the data collection, Then data from cases were collected after they take all the necessary medical care and they recover from their attack whereas from the controls data were collected after they have completed their assessment by physician and at the last record reviews from their chart. Participants were identified as having upper respiratory tract infection and Obstructive sleep apnea from their medical charts which was diagnosed by senior physicians. This is to mean that, it was just suspected clinically by the time of the acute event. The reason we obeyed to use clinically diagnosis for obstructive sleep apnea is that, there is no accesses of modern diagnostic modality like polysomnography in the study area which was Tigray regional state not only in the study area but also in the country Ethiopia as a whole. The evaluation protocol that we use were a single evaluation visit for each case and even those who have follow-up and developed acute asthma attack were included .

Data quality control techniques

Data quality was ensured by training of data collectors and supervisors before data collection period. 5% of the questionnaire was pre-tested in Shire Hospital which was not included in the actual data collection. Based on the findings of the pre-test, questionnaire was modified. The filled questionnaire was checked for completeness and accuracy by data collectors, supervisors and principal investigator each day.. The questionnaire was translated into Tigrigna language for better understanding to both the data collectors and respondents and then back translated into English by another expert to ensure accuracy and consistency.

Data analysis procedures

Data were entered in to Epi data version 3.1 and analyzed using SPSS version 23.0. The degree of association between independent and dependent variables were assessed using adjusted odds ratio with 95% confidence interval. Variables < 0.25 p -value in binary logistic regression were entered to multivariable logistic regression model to control the potential confounding variables. Variables with p-value less than 0.05 in multivariable logistic regression model were taken as significantly associated factors. Variance inflation factor (VIF) was used to assess Multicollinearity between the independent variables. Hosmer and Lemeshow goodness fit model were used to check model fitness.

Ethical consideration

Ethical clearance was obtained from Mekelle University College of health sciences institutional review board (IRB). A subsequent permission was also obtained from Tigray teaching hospitals. Respondents were informed about the purpose of the study and the interview was conducted after receiving the written consent from participants. Confidentiality of the data/information was secured and was not used for other purposes.

Sociodemographic characteristic of study participants

Among the participants, 67.7% (65) of the cases and 60.6% (117) of the controls were females. The median ages of participants were 43 years with interquartile range (IQR) of 26.5 years among cases and 43 median ages with interquartile range (IQR) of 22 for control.

The educational status, one third 33.3% (32) of the cases and 24.9% (48) of the controls were collage and above, where as 14.6% (14) of the cases and 16.6% (32) of the controls were unable to read and write. The majority of the cases 63.5% (61) and 60.1% (116) of the controls were married (Table  1 ).

Behavioral characteristics of study participants

Among the participants, 2.1% (2) of the cases and 1.1% (6) of the controls were parallel with this 3.1% of the cases and 4.7% of the control were passive smokers. Regarding vigorous activity 37.5% (36) of the cases and 23.8% (46) of the controls were do vigorous activity. Majority of the participants 72.9% (70) of the cases and 58% (112) of the controls were doing exercise.

Medical & clinical characteristics of study participants

Among the participants, 44.8% (43) of the cases and 13.5% (26) of the controls had Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI) and 29.2% (28) of the cases and few of the controls 5.2% (10) had obstructive sleep apnea.

Among the participants, 31.3% (30) of the cases and 20.7% (40) of the controls had Missing follow up.

Environmental characteristics of study participants

Regarding the seasons of a year, spring season (April, May, June) were the season with high percentage 37.7% (109) of acute asthma attack than the autumn season. Majority of the participants 79.5% (230) were open their window/door while they were cooking. Concerning the kitchen of the participants 32.3% (31) of the cases and 20.2% (39) of the control’s kitchen have no kitchen smoke (chimney) (Table  2 ).

Unmatched case control study with 96 cases and 193 controls was conducted to show the determinants of acute asthma attack among adult asthmatic patients visiting general hospitals of central zone, Tigray, Ethiopia.

Having URTI increases the occurrence of acute asthma attack 6.8 times [AOR = 6.835,95% CI = 3.285,14.222] than those who have not upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) (Table 3 ).

This is consistent with the studies conducted in Gondar, Uganda and Ireland [ 9 , 12 , 15 ].

The association might be due to the mechanism of airway inflammation,mucus hyper secretion, and bronchial hyper responsiveness [ 16 ]. In contrast to this study upper respiratory tract infections was no risk factor for acute asthma exacerbation on the study conduct in Pretoria and New Zealand [ 14 , 17 ]. This difference might be due to difference in health care seeking behavior of the participants in this study.

This study revealed that, sleep apnea was strongly associated with the occurrence of acute asthma exacerbation. Those who have sleep apnea are 9.5 times more likely to run in to acute asthma exacerbation than those who have not sleep apnea [AOR = 9.524, 95% CI = 3.563, 25.460].

This findings is comparable with a study done in Gondar and USA [ 12 , 18 ].

The possible reason is the fact that sleep apnea lead to the worsening of asthma control in patients with concomitant sleep apnea secondary to bronchoconstriction as a result of increase vagal tone while sleeping [ 19 ].

The result of this study shows that the odds of having acute asthma in Spring season was 2.2 times higher than the odds of having acute asthma attack in the autumn season [AOR = 2.204,95% CI = 1.011,4.805]. This is consistent with a study conducted in Canada in which spring season was triggering factor for asthma exacerbation [ 20 ]. Seasonal variation is the risk factors for acute asthma attack especially pollens appearing seasons like spring season exacerbates acute asthma attack. This may be due to the reason that during the spring, tree pollen, mold spores and grass have the power to inflame and narrow the air passages of people who have asthma [ 21 ].

The result of this study was different from a study conducted in Spain which was resulting winter season as higher risk of developing acute asthma attack [ 22 ]. The difference could be arisen from seasonal variation between the study areas, due to the influence of temperature and humidity.

In this study, Kitchen smoke (chimney) is highly associated with risk of acute asthma exacerbation.

Those who have no kitchen smoke in their kitchen were 2.3 times at risk to develop acute asthma exacerbation [AOR = 2.307,95%CI = 1.010,5.2725] than those who have kitchen smoke. This finding is comparable with the study conducted in India [ 13 ]. This is due to the fact that kitchen smoke (chimney) is a way that helps in removing the smokes and fumes from the kitchen and making it clean and smoke free which result in reduction of indoor air pollution and prevents acute asthma exacerbation [ 23 ]. Inhaling harmful smoke can inflame lungs and airway, causing them to swell and block oxygen. This can lead to acute asthma exacerbation [ 24 ]

In this study the determinant factors of acute asthma attack were spring season, presence of upper respiratory tract infection (URTI), having no Kitchen smoke in their kitchen and having obstructive sleep apnea.


The diagnosis of respiratory tract infections and sleep apnea was empirical (without laboratory) and all measures used were based on self-reporting, this might end up with social desirability bias. This study may have recall bias, since some of the information was based on the recall of the study participants. Unavailability of studies on acute asthma exacerbation.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and analyzed during the current study are presented within the manuscript and available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


Adjusted Odds Ratio

Confidence Interval

Crude Odds Ratio

Central Statistical Agency

Interquartile Range

National Health Interview Survey

Out Patient Department

Tigray Region Health Development Agency

Upper Respiratory Tract Infection

Variance Inflation Factor

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Authors thanks to public general hospitals of central zone Tigray, Ethiopia for their co-operation, to data collectors, supervisors, for the health staffs of the hospitals and to the study participants for their valuable information.

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Department of adult health nursing ,school of Nursing, Aksum University, Aksum, Ethiopia

Melaku Negash & Degena Bahrey Tadesse

Department of Psychiatric, Mekelle University, Mekelle, Ethiopia

Hagos Tsegabrhan

Adwa General Hospital, Adwa, Ethiopia

Teklit Meles

Department of midwifery, Aksum University, Aksum, Ethiopia

Gebreamlak Gidey

college of medicine and health science, Adigrat university, Adigrat, Ethiopia

Yemane Berhane

Maternity and reproductive health nursing, Mekelle University, Mekelle, Ethiopia

Kibrom Berhanu

Department of Emergency and critical care nursing, Mekelle University, Mekelle, Ethiopia

Tsgalem Haylemaryam

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MN: was made substantially contributions to conceived and designed the study, analysis the data, methodology, data interpretation and wrote the final manuscript.TM, DB, GG,YB, had equally contributed to analysis and interpretation of the data. Whereas HT, TH and KB substantial contribution in reviewing overall the study in analysis, interpretation of data, have drafted the manuscript and substantively revised the work. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Melaku Negash .

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Ethical clearance was obtained from Mekelle University College of health sciences institutional review board (IRB). Official supportive letters were obtained from Regional Health Bureau (TRHB) and central zone health office. Respondents were informed about the purpose of the study and the interview was conducted after receiving the written consent from participants. The right of participants to withdraw from the study at any time, without any precondition were secured and participants were informed. Confidentiality of the data/information was secured and was not used for other purposes. No personal identifiers was used on the questionnaire. To maintain confidentiality, data collector was recruited from the study unit.

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Additional file 1..

Annex I: English version structured interview questionnaire.

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Negash, M., Tsegabrhan, H., Meles, T. et al. Determinants of Acute Asthma Attack among adult asthmatic patients visiting hospitals of Tigray, Ethiopia, 2019: case control study. asthma res and pract 6 , 1 (2020).

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Received : 07 December 2019

Accepted : 17 March 2020

Published : 03 April 2020


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  • Acute asthma attack
  • Determinants

Asthma Research and Practice

ISSN: 2054-7064

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case study for asthma patient

Healthcare Utilization, Physical and Psychiatric Comorbidities Before Self-Injurious Behavior in Patients with Asthma: A Nested Case-Control Study


  • 1 Taipei City Psychiatric Center, Taipei City Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan.
  • 2 Department of Psychology, National Chengchi University, Taipei, Taiwan.
  • 3 Institute of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, College of Public Health, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan.
  • 4 Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, College of Medicine, Taipei Medical University, Taipei, Taiwan.
  • 5 Psychiatric Research Center, Taipei Medical University Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan.
  • 6 Department of Psychiatry, Mackay Memorial Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan.
  • PMID: 38736905
  • PMCID: PMC11088374
  • DOI: 10.2147/JAA.S449337

Background: Patients with asthma experience more physical, psychological, and financial burdens; a link between asthma and suicidality has been reported in research.

Purpose: This study analyzed the medical utilization and comorbidity before their self-injurious behavior in patients with asthma.

Methods: We enrolled 186,862 patients newly diagnosed with asthma between 1999 and 2013 from the National Health Insurance Research Database in Taiwan. A total of 500 case subjects had ever conducted self-injurious behaviors during the study period. Based on a nested case-control study, each case was matched with 10 controls derived from the asthma cohort to analyze differences between them and their medical use models.

Results: The results indicated that, compared to the control group, the cases presented higher frequencies of outpatient visits and hospitalizations. Regarding comorbidity, the cases had more cardiovascular diseases (adjusted odds ratio [aOR]=1.58; p <0.001), bipolar disorder (aOR=2.97; p <0.001), depression (aOR=4.44; p <0.001), and sleep disorder (aOR=1.83; p <0.001) than the controls.

Conclusion: The evidence-based information serves as a reference for medical staff to reduce the occurrence of self-injurious behavior in patients with asthma.

Keywords: asthma; medical utilization; physical comorbidity; psychiatric comorbidity; self-injurious behavior.

© 2024 Huang et al.


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