Twenty children were studied during severe attacks of acute asthma to find out how dehydrated they were on admission to hospital. Mean body weight on admission was 97.8% of their reference stable weight seven to 10 days after the attack and in only three children was it less than 95% of the stable weight. Bedside assessment of dehydration was unreliable. The mean packed cell volume was significantly higher on admission than 7-10 days later (0.44 compared with 0.42, difference 0.02 SE 0.01). Serum sodium and potassium concentrations and osmolality on admission were within normal ranges. The degree of dehydration correlated best with a fall in blood pH. There was no association between the degree of dehydration and the recovery of the peak expiratory flow rate during the first 24 hours or thereafter. We conclude that mild dehydration is common in severe acute childhood asthma. Fluid given at a rate of 50 ml/kg/24 hours was safe and appropriate for these children.
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