Volatile anesthetic agents for life-threatening pediatric asthma: A multicenter retrospective cohort study and narrative review

Alicia Lew, John M. Morrison, Ernest K. Amankwah, Richard A. Elliott, Anthony A. Sochet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Volatile anesthetic agents are described as rescue therapy for children invasively ventilated for critical asthma. Yet, data are currently limited to case series. Aims: Using the Virtual Pediatric Systems database, we assessed children admitted to a pediatric intensive care unit invasively ventilated for life-threatening asthma and hypothesized ventilation duration and mortality rates would be lower for subjects exposed to volatile anesthetics compared with those without exposure. Methods: We performed a multicenter retrospective cohort study among nine institutions including children 5–17 years of age invasively ventilated for asthma from 2013 to 2019 with and without exposure to volatile anesthetics. Primary outcomes were ventilation duration and mortality. Secondary outcomes included patient characteristics, length of stay, and anesthetic-related adverse events. A subgroup analysis was performed evaluating children intubated ≥2 days. Results: Of 203 children included in study, there were 29 (14.3%) with and 174 (85.7%) without exposure to volatiles. No differences in odds of mortality (1.1, 95% CI: 0.3–3.9, p >.999) were observed. Subjects receiving volatiles experienced greater median difference in length of stay (4.8, 95% CI: 1.9–7.8 days, p <.001), ventilation duration (2.3, 95% CI: 1–3.3 days, p <.001), and odds of extracorporeal life support (9.1, 95% CI: 1.9–43.2, p =.009) than those without volatile exposure. For those ventilated ≥2 days, no differences were detected in mortality, ventilation duration, length of stay, arrhythmias, or acute renal failure. However, the odds of extracorporeal life support remained greater for those receiving volatiles (7.6, 95% CI: 1.3–44.5, p =.027). No children experienced malignant hyperthermia or hepatic failure after volatile exposure. Conclusions: For intubated children for asthma, no differences in mechanical ventilation duration or mortality between those with and without volatile anesthetic exposure were observed. Although volatiles may represent a viable rescue therapy for severe cases of asthma, definitive, and prospective trials are still needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1340-1349
Number of pages10
JournalPaediatric anaesthesia
Issue number12
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • critical asthma
  • inhaled
  • life-threatening asthma
  • mechanical ventilation
  • near-fatal asthma
  • pediatric intensive care unit
  • volatile anesthetic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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