How to Treat Bronchospasm

By Michael Baker

A bronchospasm is a tight contraction of the bronchial muscle, producing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and a tight feeling in the chest. The contraction narrows the bronchi, the airways that connect the trachea to the lungs, which is further aggravated when the mucous membrane swells and becomes inflamed. Sticky mucus produced by the bronchial glands can further clog up the bronchi, and coughing usually will not force out the mucus. Bronchospasms are a common feature of asthma, but a number of other conditions can bring on bronchospasm as well: respiratory infections; chronic lung disease, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis; anaphylactic shock; side effects of drugs such as beta blockers; allergies to food, chemicals or insect stings, and breathing in smoke or gases that irritate the lungs. The spasms themselves are not usually fatal but should be treated as quickly as possible.

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A bronchospasm is a tight contraction of the bronchial muscle, producing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and a tight feeling in the chest. The contraction narrows the bronchi, the airways that connect the trachea to the lungs, which is further aggravated when the mucous membrane swells and becomes inflamed. Sticky mucus produced by the bronchial glands can further clog up the bronchi, and coughing usually will not force out the mucus. Bronchospasms are a common feature of asthma, but a number of other conditions can bring on bronchospasm as well: respiratory infections; chronic lung disease, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis; anaphylactic shock; side effects of drugs such as beta blockers; allergies to food, chemicals or insect stings, and breathing in smoke or gases that irritate the lungs. The spasms themselves are not usually fatal but should be treated as quickly as possible.

Remain calm, keep the person having bronchospasms calm and call 911.

Use any prescribed medications, such as asthma inhalers, as directed by doctors.

If able, administer oxygen to the patient.

If the patient is on a tracheotomy tube, gently suck on it. Stop if that disturbs the patient's breathing further. Change the tube if it is blocked and the suction does not remove the blockage.

Administer rescue breathing or CPR if the patient's breathing or heartbeat stops.

Follow up any treatment with a chest X-ray and pulmonary function test to check for conditions that might cause further bronchospasms.

They administer a Beta-2 adrenergic agonist, such as salbutamol, through an inhaler or nebulizer. This relaxes the muscles to relieve the spasms.

Depending on the severity of the bronchospasms, they administer additional doses in 20-minute intervals or continuously. They may give the drug intravenously, if necessary.

If two or three doses do not provide relief, inject hydrocortisone intravenously. Hydrocortisone can suppress the inflammation causing the bronchospasms.

Should symptoms persist, add aminophylline to the dosage. This will dilate the bronchi and bronchioles, restoring their air flow.

Intermittent positive-pressure ventilation--putting air into the lungs through a breathing tube--might be necessary if there is no response to other treatments. These cases are rare.

Tip

If you are prone to bronchospasms while exercising, always warm up and cool down for about 15 minutes both before and after workouts. Avoid exercising on days that are extremely cold or have a high pollen count.

References

About the Author

Michael Baker has worked as a full-time journalist since 2002 and currently serves as editor for several travel-industry trade publications in New York. He previously was a business reporter for "The Press of Atlantic City" in New Jersey and "The [Brazoria County] Facts" in Freeport, Texas. Baker holds a Master of Science in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.

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