Focus: Asthma

This week’s focus piece will cover asthma.

What is asthma? Asthma is essentially, a disease that inhibits the ability to get air out of the lungs. Asthma is caused by bronchial spasms. What is this? Your bronchioles are the tubes in your lungs that take air (and oxygen!) to your alveoli: where gas exchange (O2 for CO2!) occurs. In an asthma attack, these bronchioles swell, and excess mucus is produced, preventing the air from getting out. Why is that?! Well, when you inhale air, you are using the negative pressure inside your lungs (created by your diaphragm contracting!) to pull air into your lungs. However, when you are exhaling, the pressure inside your lungs equals the pressure outside (because your diaphragm is relaxed!). Therefore, you can think of inhaling as an active process, versus exhaling, a passive process. When your bronchioles swell, you can still pull air into your lungs (because the pressure difference helps!), but you can’t get it out. The pressure difference also helps your bronchioles open up a tiny bit to get air in, but as you try to breathe out, the walls of the bronchioles clamp down, and the air is stuck. This is called air trapping. Plus when your lungs and alveoli are full of CO2, it is super hard to get any air to move at all.

Here is an image that shows normal versus asthmatic bronchioles:


This pathophysiology of asthma all leads to the signs and symptoms that are visible in asthma patients. The first sign of many asthma attacks may be a tight chest. This is caused by the beginning of the air trapping. Patients may cough, creating extra pressure, and trying to push that air out of their lungs. Wheezing is also one of the main signs of an asthma attack. Wheezing is caused by the sound made as small amounts of air pass through the bronchioles.

Asthma attacks in the early stages can have low CO2 levels and low O2 levels, as a result of hyperventilation. This causes respiratory alkalosis (high pH levels, due to low levels of CO2) in the early stages. As an asthma attack progresses, patients may have some carbon dioxide retention, and as this CO2 builds up in the blood, it causes respiratory acidosis (low pH levels). Severe asthma attacks can be complex to manage.

You may also see retractions of different muscles, more commonly seen in kids. Check out this video!

Here is an image that shows the different types of retractions, and how they correspond with the severity of an asthma attack.



Asthma can have many, many different causes, such as allergies, genetics, stress, cold air, irritants in the air, and physical activity (exercise induced asthma). Approximately 30% of cases are diagnosed in childhood; the remaining 70% fall into the category of “adult onset asthma”. Within that, 30% of adult onset asthma cases are estimated to actually be allergy-induced asthma. In general, those diagnosed with childhood asthma may have more intermittent asthma (and it may actually go away in early adulthood!) versus those diagnosed with adult onset asthma are more likely to need daily control medications.

So how is asthma managed?

  • Systemic steroids: ie Prednisone, oral beclamethasone, etc; most commonly used during illness. Systemic steroids are fairly strong and can be harmful to be on for long periods of time.
  • Inhaled steroids: ie QVAR, Asmanex, etc; quite effective at decreasing overall inflammation in lungs.
  • Long acting beta agonists + steroids: The most common asthma medications, these are a combination of medications that include a bronchodilator and a steroid. Includes medications such as Advair, Dulera, etc.
  • Short acting bronchodilators: These medications are to be used during an attack, and not for ongoing maintenance of asthma. They can be used in a nebulizer, in a metered dose inhaler, and with a spacer. Albuterol is the most common.
  • Other medications include:
    • Epinephrine: Used in prehospital settings in severe asthma attacks, those not relieved with short acting bronchodilators via nebulizer. Epinephrine is extremely effective at inducing relief of bronchospasm. Generally the high blood pressure and high pulse rate (hypertension and tachycardia) induced by the anxiety and hypoxia of a severe attack is actually relieved by the administration of epinephrine
    • Magnesium Sulfate: Very effective at inducing bronchial smooth muscle relaxation in severe attacks. This medication can be given either via nebulizer or via IV

There have also been many studies on other ways to manage asthma, and positive correlations have been found between low LDL levels in children, adequate vitamin D levels, and regular physical activity.

How do you know when to call 911 or go to the Emergency Department when you or your child are having an asthma attack?? You should always follow the asthma action plan given to you by your doctor.




New Year; New Resolutions

How many of us make ‘New Years Resolutions’ every year? I know I do, even if it’s just subconsciously!

We all see the jokes all over Facebook and other social media — oh New Years week, everyone will be gone from the gym by mid-January! Well, unfortunately, that is generally true. New Years Resolutions tend to be short lived. New habits take approximately 66 DAYS to become habit!!!! 66 days! That’s over 2 months! (Source:

So I implore you, this year, to be patient with yourself. If you do have a New Years Resolution, make it attainable. And if you don’t achieve it, be patient with yourself. It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up. Actually, I’m forcing you to put that on your New Year’s Resolution. “Be Kind to Myself” (PS it’s capitalized because it’s important, and you should listen!)

If you’re reading this post and going, well shoot, I don’t have any New Years Resolutions. Or “My New Years Resolution already failed”…well, I am here to help you.

Want to know an awesome New Years Resolution?!? (Hint: You do!!!!)

LEARN CPR. LEARN CPR. LEARN CPR. Should I say it a few more times?

CPR is AWESOME. Obviously we think this. We do this every day, at our “day jobs”, and in teaching all of you. So how do we get YOU to think this??

Look at it this way. What other skill can you learn (potentially in a number of minutes — come join us for a free hands-only CPR session!) that can double or triple someone’s chances of surviving?? NOTHING. There is literally nothing else out there you could learn that will enable you to bring someone back from being clinically dead, to going home and being with their family again. Not a single thing. Not convinced yet?

For every single minute someone is in cardiac arrest, their chances of survival drop by 7-10%. This means, that after 10 minutes, their chances of survival are pretty much zero. We don’t like that. As EMS providers, sometimes we don’t get there until 7-10 minutes after the patient is in cardiac arrest. That’s why we need YOUR help. The faster you start compressions, the better their chances of going home.

Just to convince you a little bit more that you should come take a class from us — look at the person sitting next to you. Think of your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend. Think of your sister/brother. Think of your parents. Think of your child. What lengths would you go to in order to help them? Pretty far.

Let’s make it easy to take that first step. This year, we will be offering free hands-only CPR classes throughout the community, to teach these important skills. Sign up for one today!

Want to hold one at your house/workplace/school? Shoot us an email.

We look forward to teaching you!