A severe asthma attack should be treated as quickly as possible. It is most important for a patient suffering an acute attack to be given extra oxygen. Rarely, it may be necessary to use a mechanical ventilator to help the patient breathe. A beta-receptor agonist is inhaled repeatedly or continuously. If the patient does not respond promptly and completely, a steroid is given. A course of steroid therapy, given after the attack is over, will make a recurrence less likely.
Long-term allopathic treatment for asthma is based on inhaling a beta-receptor agonist using a special inhaler that meters the dose. Patients must be instructed in proper use of an inhaler to be sure that it will deliver the right amount of drug. Once asthma has been controlled for several weeks or months, it is worth trying to cut down on drug treatment, but this tapering must be done gradually. The last drug added should be the first to be reduced. Patients should be seen every one to six months, depending on the frequency of attacks. Starting treatment at home, rather than in a hospital, makes for minimal delay and helps the patient to gain a sense of control over the disease. All patients should be taught how to monitor their symptoms so that they will know when an attack is starting. Those with moderate or severe asthma should know how to use a flow meter. They also should have a written plan to follow if symptoms suddenly become worse, including how to adjust their medication and when to seek medical help. If more intense treatment is necessary, it should be continued for several days. When deciding whether a patient should be hospitalized, the physician must take into account the patient's past history of acute attacks, severity of symptoms, current medication, and the availability of good support at home.
Douglas Dupler, Teresa G. Odle, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,