Research Article

75 deaths in asthmatics prescribed home nebulisers.

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1987; 294 doi: (Published 21 February 1987) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1987;294:477
  1. M R Sears,
  2. H H Rea,
  3. J Fenwick,
  4. A J Gillies,
  5. P E Holst,
  6. T V O'Donnell,
  7. R P Rothwell


    The circumstances surrounding the deaths of 75 asthmatic patients who had been prescribed a domiciliary nebuliser driven by an air compressor pump for administration of high dose beta sympathomimetic drugs were investigated as part of the New Zealand national asthma mortality study. Death was judged unavoidable in 19 patients who seemed to have precipitous attacks despite apparently good long term management. Delays in seeking medical help because of overreliance on beta agonist delivered by nebuliser were evident in 12 cases and possible in a further 11, but these represented only 8% of the 271 verified deaths from asthma in New Zealanders aged under 70 during the period. Evidence for direct toxicity of high dose beta agonist was not found. Nevertheless, the absence of serum potassium and theophylline concentrations and of electrocardiographic monitoring in the period immediately preceding death precluded firm conclusions whether arrhythmias might have occurred due to these factors rather than to hypoxia alone. In most patients prescribed domiciliary nebulisers death was associated with deficiencies in long term and short term care similar to those seen in patients without nebulisers. Discretion in prescribing home nebulisers, greater use of other appropriate drugs, including adequate corticosteroids, and careful supervision and instruction of patients taking beta agonist by nebuliser should help to reduce the mortality from asthma.