Which physical findings are associated with a child in imminent respiratory arrest?

Updated: Nov 20, 2020
  • Author: Michael J Morris, MD, FACP, FCCP; Chief Editor: Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP  more...
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When children are in imminent respiratory arrest, in addition to the aforementioned symptoms, they are drowsy and confused, but adolescents may not have these symptoms until they are in frank respiratory failure. In status asthmaticus with imminent respiratory arrest, paradoxical thoracoabdominal movement occurs. Wheezing may be absent (associated with most severe airway obstruction), and severe hypoxemia may manifest as bradycardia. Pulsus paradoxus noted earlier may be absent; this finding suggests respiratory muscle fatigue.

As the episode becomes more severe, profuse diaphoresis occurs, with the diaphoresis presenting concomitantly with a rise in PCO2 and hypoventilation. In the most severe form of acute asthma, patients may struggle for air, act confused and agitated, and pull off their oxygen, stating, "I can’t breathe." These are signs of life-threatening hypoxia. With advanced hypercarbia, bradypnea, somnolence, and profuse diaphoresis may be present; almost no breath sounds may be heard; and the patient is willing to lie recumbent.

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