Electrical stimulation may be a safe option for treating severe asthma flare-ups

A study described at the meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians, CHEST 2009 in San Diego (October 31-November 5, 2009) suggests that electrical stimulation can safely be used to open the airways during an acute asthma attack when traditional medications do not work.

The small study involved four conscious and responsive adults aged 26 to 58 who visited a hospital emergency room during a moderate-to-severe asthma attack and whose symptoms did not improve after using inhalers and powerful anti-inflammatory (steroid) medications.

The electrical stimulation technique is a minimally invasive procedure that is done while the patient is awake. Anesthesia is applied to the neck, and then the doctor inserts an electrode under the skin into the tissue surrounding the carotid artery and vagus nerve. Live ultrasound images are used to help guide the placement.
The study participants received mild but continuous electrical pulses for three hours, ranging from 1-12 volts. The voltage was increased until symptoms improved or the stimulation triggered muscle twitching or discomfort.

Researchers compared breathing measurements taken before the stimulation to those obtained every 30 minutes during the procedure and after the stimulation was complete.
A half-hour into the treatment, the patients could blow more air out of their lungs after taking a deep breath. Their FEV1 scores remained increased for 30 minutes after treatment.

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First Publishd November 2009

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