Helium Helps Asthmatics Breathe

August 2, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Asthma affects 23 million adults and 9 million kids. The wheezing, coughing and suffocating can turn into a life-threatening situation. Now, doctors are turning to helium to help people breathe easier.It's been a rough start for Emery. Trouble breathing stressed his heart. Now doctors are using helium to help.

"It should, in theory, make his oxygen concentration go up in his bloodstream," James Swift, M.D., a pediatric intensive care physician at Sunrise Children's Hospital in Las Vegas, Nev., told Ivanhoe.

When doctors coat the airways with a mixture of helium and oxygen, it creates a smooth pathway for the air to travel. "Air moves in and out very easily," Dr. Swift said.

Air flows through lungs like water in a stream. Rocks cause turbulence. Those rocks are like the mucus in your lungs, blocking air flow.

"That helium layers out and allows the oxygen and the CO2 to get in and out of the airways in a much more efficient manner," Dr. Swift said.

Asthma attacks sent 13-year-old Zach Hibbert to the emergency room several times.

"Playing with the dogs a lot, and I'd just start not breathing," Zach told Ivanhoe.

During his last attack, Zach was put on helium for a few days.

"Looking at him, he looked a little blue around the lips, and I knew there was a problem," Alfredo Hibbert, Zach's father, told Ivanhoe.

His breathing returned to normal ? and he's been good to go ever since.

Dr. Swift says the worst cases of asthma are often in kids five to 18, and if not treated, some cases can lead to heart failure.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Office of Dr. James Swift
(713) 500-6820
Ashlee Seymour
Public Relations
Sunrise Children's Hospital
ashlee.seymour@hcahealthcare.com

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