In severe cases, asthma can be life threatening. Deaths occur more frequently in adults. More than 80% of the 3,880 deaths related to asthma in 1985 occurred in asthmatics over age 45. Usually, however, the airways can be opened and the attack controlled with medications. In a severe attack, the airways may become completely blocked leading to respiratory failure. This condition is a medical emergency and requires immediate attention. It is important for asthmatics to learn to recognize severe episodes and how to prevent them. Some physicians blame the dramatic increase in asthma related deaths to an over-reliance on drugs designed to open obstructed airways. It appears more likely, however, that deaths are due to the delay in administering therapy to relieve the attack.
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