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Asthma Attack!


Hollie L. Leavitt
Department of Biology
College of Western Idaho


This interrupted case study follows the progress of a pediatric patient who experiences an acute asthma exacerbation brought on by an environmental trigger.  Students completing the case will synthesize their understanding of respiratory system anatomy and physiology with the clinical treatment of an obstructive lung disorder.  Topics reviewed include bronchoconstriction and dilation, pulmonary ventilation, air flow, gas exchange, respiratory volumes, the oxygen-hemoglobin dissociation curve, pCO2, pO2, and the effects of medications used to treat asthma.  Students should have an understanding of the respiratory system before starting the case and thus it is best used at the end of the respiratory system unit as a way for students to apply what they have learned to a real-world situation.  The case was developed for an anatomy and physiology class for majors taught through the “flipped” method at a community college, but would also work well for students in a pathophysiology course or in pre-professional programs in health care.  It may also be suitable for high school students in an advanced or honors anatomy and physiology program.

  • Describe the anatomy of the respiratory passageways.
  • Understand respiratory system function including air flow and gas exchange.
  • Determine the effects of bronchoconstriction and bronchodilation on air flow.
  • Describe the pressure gradients required for pulmonary ventilation.
  • Understand respiratory volumes and how they are used clinically to assess disease.
  • Know how to use the oxygen-hemoglobin dissociation curve.
  • Predict how pCO2 and pO2 are affected by an obstructive lung disease.
  • Describe pathological changes in the airways and environmental factors that can lead to an acute asthma exacerbation.
  • Understand the effects of some of the medications used to treat asthma.
Keywords: asthma; respiratory anatomy; respiratory physiology; respiratory system; lung pathology; respiratory volumes; oxygen-hemoglobin dissociation;
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division, Professional (degree program)
Formats: PDF, PowerPoint
Type/Method: Directed, Flipped, Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Anatomy   Physiology   Medicine (General)   Nursing   Pharmacy / Pharmacology   Sports Science  
Date Posted: 3/12/2018
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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Answer Key

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Supplemental Materials

The PowerPoint presentation below includes optional slides for in-class review before presenting the case.


  asthma_attack_sup.ppt (~634 KB)


The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.

  Asthma: An Animation
This brief video reviews the lung pathology that leads to an asthma attack. Running time: 2:48 min. Produced by NHS Choices, 2010.

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