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How are steroids used to treat acute respiratory events in critical care?

 Dr. Kathleen Handal, MD
Emergency Medicine
Airway swelling can be caused by things like allergy, infection or chronic smoking.  Breathing becomes difficult, leading to coughing or wheezing. Whatever the cause, you need oxygen. Medications are one way to get the small airways to stop swelling and reverse the constriction/narrowing. The use of anti-inflammatory medication is the mainstay. We are all familiar with these over-the-counter (OTC) medications for arthritis and aches caused by overuse (inflammation).  'Steroids' are the strongest anti inflammatory drugs. They can be taken by mouth as a pill or liquid, inhaled or injected directly into your bloodstream through a vein (IV). There are several types/preparations with varying onset of action. However, their action is not immediate and can take up to 6 hours to reach maximum effect.

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