Acute, severe exacerbations of asthma present a challenge due to the significant morbidity associated with this presentation. For exacerbations that are refractory to initial treatments with inhaled and oral therapies, there is still doubt about which intravenous therapies are most likely to be helpful. β-2 agonists and aminophylline have differing mechanisms of action that also affect their adverse effects profiles and these are considered. A review of the available randomised control trials suggests that a bolus of intravenous salbutamol may reduce symptoms and hasten recovery. Aminophylline infusions may improve lung function, and in some studies have been shown to improve symptoms, but the evidence is not clear cut. Decisions about which treatment to use should include risk management considerations such as ease of prescription, preparation and administration factors and availability of high-dependency beds.
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