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Reasons for Fatal Asthma Attacks

written by: Genevieve Van Wyden • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 3/8/2011

Some asthmatics have good control over their symptoms, using their medications correctly and keeping their symptoms under tight control. Others are at increased risk for fatal asthma attacks. If the victims of a fatal attack had known what the risk factors are, they might still be here.

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    Overview

    When an asthmatic is diagnosed with asthma, her doctor should educate her about what asthma is, how it acts on her respiratory system, what she can do to manage it and how to use her medications correctly. This is the ideal scenario. If the asthmatic doesn’t treat her asthma correctly or if she ignores her symptoms, she’s literally putting her life at risk.

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    Insufficient Oxygen

    Boy Using Inhaler Credit Arvind Balaraman Almost all fatal asthma attacks develop from a lack of oxygen. If the patient is not near a source of oxygen -- for example, in the hospital, she is likely to die from a severe asthma attack. If the patient is having a severe attack, a quick medical response and rapid administration of oxygen can turn the attack around, preventing a needless death, writes Health Central. [2]

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    Delayed Medical Care

    The asthmatic with severe symptoms who delays getting medical attention in the emergency room is more likely to die as a result of a severe asthma attack. She may be in denial of the severity of her symptoms, believing that if she stops wheezing, her symptoms are improving. In actuality, her respiratory system is shutting down and heading for respiratory arrest. [2]

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    Using Medications Incorrectly

    The asthmatic who dies after suffering a severe attack is more likely to have used her medications incorrectly -- she abused her rescue inhalers. [2] A big sign that the asthmatic is at risk of suffering a fatal attack is if she begins using two or more albuterol inhalers or other short acting bronchodilators within a one-month time period, states Pat Bass, About.com Guide. [3]

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    Poverty and Lack of Medical Care

    If the asthmatic comes from a poor family, she is more likely to die of a severe asthma attack. She doesn’t have the access to medical information, optimal medical care or the medication she needs to control her condition.

    She is also more likely to be exposed to asthma triggers like animal dander, cockroaches, pollution and dust, especially if she lives in an urban area. [2]

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    Past History of Severe Asthma Exacerbation

    An asthmatic at risk of dying from an attack is at higher risk of suffering a fatal asthma attack if she has an event of a near-fatal attack in her medical history -- if she wakes at night suffering from an attack, experiences increased instances of shortness of breath or uses her rescue inhaler more frequently, she needs to pay attention to these signals and get medical attention right away. [3]

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    Trouble Identifying Worsening Asthma Symptoms

    An asthmatic might have problems identifying when her symptoms are actually worsening. She may also not recognize that she is having an asthma attack -- if she doesn’t get immediate medical treatment beyond her rescue inhaler or nebulizer treatment, her risk of dying from an attack goes way up. [3]

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    Significant Differences in Peak Flow Readings

    If the patient experiences large differences in her peak flow meter readings, going from readings in the green zone, then suddenly experiencing readings in the red or danger zone, she is at increased risk of dying from an asthma attack, states Dr. Albert L. Sheffer of the Partners Asthma Center. [1]

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    Psychological Issues

    Asthma patients who experience fatal asthma attacks may have had a history of psychological or psychiatric illness, such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. [3]

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    References

    [1] Albert L. Sheffer, M.D. Fatal Asthma. Partners Asthma Center, retrieved at http://www.asthma.partners.org/NewFiles/ShefferFatalAsthma.html

    [2] Rick Frea. 16 Interesting Asthma Facts You Should Know. Health Central. May 2009, retrieved at http://www.healthcentral.com/asthma/c/52325/70734/interesting-asthma

    [3] Pat Bass, Fatal Asthma: Am I at Risk for a Fatal Asthma Attack? About.com Asthma, retrieved at http://asthma.about.com/od/adultasthma/a/ad_fatal_asthma.htm

    Boy Using Inhaler Free Digital Photo Credit Arvind Balaraman - http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1058

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