Because inadequate assessment and inappropriate treatment of acute asthma have been implicated as contributing factors in morbidity and even deaths, the management of acute asthma, as practiced in an emergency room, were reviewed. The study population comprised 1,864 children (mean age 5.6 years; 65% boys) who attended the emergency room with acute asthma on 3,358 occasions during a 16-month period. Visits occurred more commonly in winter and usually in the evenings; 93% were self-referred and the mean duration of symptoms was 41 hours. Most acute episodes were associated with infection. Although chest auscultation, heart rate, and respiratory rate were recorded during the majority of visits, evidence that pulsus paradoxus had been measured could be found for only 1% of visits. Results of lung function and blood gas values were rarely recorded, but chest radiographs were obtained in 18% of visits. Drugs used in the emergency room included β2-agonisth (93% of visits), theophylline (16%), and systemic steroids (4%), but no child received anticholinergic therapy. In 26% of patient visits, admission to hospital occurred; one patient died. The erratic fashion in which asthma severity appears to have been assessed and the failure to document whether lung function had been measured are causes for concern. The surprisingly high hospitalization rate may have been avoided if bronchodilators and corticosteroids had not been underused in the emergency room.

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