Cough is one of the most common complaints presenting to any emergency physician or primary care practitioner – whether it is the chief complaint or an associated symptom. An acute cough is one that has been present for less than three weeks. In the era of COVID-19, a patient presenting with an acute cough can be alarming and scary. So, now more than ever, it is important to develop a strong diagnostic approach to the acute cough, which is largely a clinical diagnosis.
Differential Diagnosis of Acute Cough
*Indicates the most common causes of acute cough.
Symptoms / warning signs
Upper respiratory tract infection aka common cold*
Rhinorrhea, nasal obstruction, sneezing, scratchy/sore throat, malaise, headache, and no
signs of consolidation
Recent upper respiratory tract infection, and absence of COPD, and absence of high fever or other systemic signs
Fever, sore throat, nasal congestion, myalgia, headache, and no signs of consolidation
Fever, tachycardia, tachypnea, consolidation signs on respiratory exam, and mental status change in patients >75y old
Whooping cough and cough-emesis
Fever, non-productive cough, fatigue, dyspnea, and/or other less common symptoms such as sore throat, diarrhea, headache, skin rash, and anosmia
drip aka upper airway cough syndrome
Post-nasal drainage sensation, need to clear throat, and rhinorrhea
rhinitis aka hay fever
Itching and watering of eyes, rhinorrhea, pruritis
of a pre-existing chronic disease
Exacerbation of Asthma
History of episodic wheezing, non-productive cough, dyspnea, reversible air-flow obstruction, allergen exposure or triggered by exercise
Exacerbation of COPD
Smoking history, dyspnea, signs of obstruction on respiratory exam i.e. decreased
breath sounds, and irreversible air-flow obstruction
Exacerbation of CHF
Dyspnea, orthopnea, peripheral edema, gallop rhythm on cardiac exam, and elevated JVP
ACE inhibitor use
Non-productive cough, tickling or scratchy sensation in throat typically arising within 1 week of starting medication
reflux disorder (GERD)
Heartburn, regurgitation, dysphagia, and cough is more prominent at night
Other pulmonary causes
Clinical signs and symptoms of DVT, dyspnea, tachypnea, tachycardia, pleuritic chest pain,
immobilization for 3 or more days, surgery in the past 4 weeks, history of DVT/PE, hemoptysis, and malignancy with active treatment in the past 6 months
Smoking history, new change in cough, hemoptysis, dyspnea, night sweats, weight loss, and signs of focal obstruction on respiratory exam i.e. decreased breath
Foreign body aspiration
Dyspnea, inspiratory stridor, choking, and elevated risk in children
Acute inhalation injury
History of exposure to smoke (e.g. in firefighters, thermal burn victims) or chemicals (e.g. chlorine, ammonia)
Large volumes of purulent sputum, dyspnea, wheezing, and chest pain
Interstitial lung disease
Non-productive cough, dyspnea, fatigue, weight loss
Picture the scene: A 23-year-old female presents to the emergency department with a cough that has been ongoing for one week. What are your next steps?
Confirm the duration and timing of cough
Nature of cough, i.e. whooping, hemoptysis, and productive vs non-productive?
Presence of the following associated symptoms: fever, dyspnea, sore throat, headache, chest pain, heartburn, rhinorrhea, facial pressure/pain, nasal congestion, or weight loss
History of any chronic lung disease (i.e. asthma, COPD), allergies, CHF, or immunosuppression?
Medication history, i.e. ACE inhibitor use?
HEENT exam (head, eyes, ears, nose, and throat)
Cardiac exam, including JVP
Send for COVID-19 swab according to your hospital’s guidelines
Order CBC if suspecting infection
Order ABG if dyspnea present or life-threatening cause of acute cough suspected
Order sputum culture if suspecting bacterial pneumonia
Spirometry if need to differentiate between obstructive lung disease (e.g., asthma, COPD) and restrictive lung disease (e.g., interstitial lung disease)
Consider starting with a Chest X-ray if red flags for serious pathology are present >> dyspnea, hemoptysis, chest pain, weight loss, immunosuppression, significant smoking history, elderly or at risk of aspiration, tachypnea or hypoxemia, abnormal cardiac or respiratory exam, or sepsis.
If suspecting foreign body aspiration, need to order bronchoscopy
Please note that treatment of the conditions that may cause acute cough are not discussed in this blog post, but can be found through medical resources such as those in the references section. Treatment for acute cough often requires treating the underlying cause.
Boujaoude ZC, Pratter MR. Clinical approach to acute cough. Lung. 2010;188 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S41-S46. doi:10.1007/s00408-009-9170-6
Holzinger F, Beck S, Dini L, Stöter C, Heintze C. The diagnosis and treatment of acute cough in adults. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2014;111(20):356-363. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2014.0356
Madison JM, Irwin RS. Cough: A worldwide problem. Otolarynogol Clin North Am. 2010 Feb;43(1):1-13, vii.
A 78-year-old male, known case of Chronic Kidney Disease on maintenance hemodialysis, presented to the Emergency Department with dizziness and lethargy complaints about 2 days. He had missed his last hemodialysis session due to personal reasons. We could not elicit any further history details as was significantly dyspneic (no bystanders with him at the time of presentation). Hence, the patient was received in Bay 1 for immediate resuscitative measures. The patient was afebrile, conscious, and well oriented, but unable to communicate because of severe dyspnea.
HR – 142 beats/min BP – not recordable RR – 36 breaths/min SpO2 – poor tracing, intermittently showed 98% on room air (15 LO2 via Non Rebreathing Mask was initiated nevertheless)
He was immediately connected to a defibrillator in anticipation of possible synchronized cardioversion. Simultaneously, the cause of the possible rhythm was being evaluated for and a thorough examination was carried out. On examination, his lung fields were clear. His left arm AV Fistula had a feeble thrill on palpation.
In suspicion of hyperkalemia as the cause of VT, patient was immediately started on potassium reduction measures while the point of care ABG report was awaited. He was treated with salbutamol nebulization 10mg, sodium bicarbonate 50 ml IV and 10% calcium gluconate 10ml IV. In view of hemodynamic instability, he was also started on intravenous noradrenaline infusion.
As hyperkalemia was confirmed, the patient was also given 200 ml of 25% dextrose with 12 units of Rapid-acting insulin IV. With the above measures, the patient’s cardiac rhythm came to a sine wave pattern.
He was later taken up for emergency hemodialysis (HD) – Sustained Low Efficacy Dialysis (SLED) in the ICU, using a low potassium dialysate. Since his AV fistula was non-functioning, HD was done after placement of a femoral dialysis catheter. 2 hours into HD, the patient’s cardiac monitor showed a normal sinus rhythm. His hemodynamic status significantly improved. Noradrenaline infusion was gradually tapered and stopped by the end of the HD session, and repeat blood gas analysis and serum electrolytes showed improvement of all parameters.
The patient was discharged 2 days later, after another session of hemodialysis (through AV fistula) and a detailed cardiology evaluation (ECHO – LVH, normal EF).
For the Inquisitive Minds
The patient underwent a detailed POCUS evaluation, both in the ER and ICU. What findings do you expect to find on the RUSH examination for this patient?
His previous ECHO report (done 1 month ago) mentioned left ventricular hypertrophy and normal ejection fraction. So what would be the reason behind the POCUS findings? Is it reversible?
Why was the AV fistula non-functioning at the time of presentation? When would it have started to function again?
Despite not having hypoxia, this patient was given supplemental oxygen. Did he really require it, and if so, what was the rationale?
What was the necessity for carrying out SLED for this patient?
Why was this patient not immediately cardioverted in the ER?
If this patient had gone into cardiac arrest, what drugs would you have given for management of hyperkalemia?
How differently would you have managed this patient?
Please give your answers and comments into "leave a reply" area below.
Kawasaki disease (KD), or mucocutaneous lymph nodes syndrome is an immune-mediated inflammation in the walls of medium-sized arteries throughout the body. It’s complications result in the coronary arteries expanding, heart attacks, and premature death.
As the leading cause of heart disease in North American and Japanese children, KD continues to bewilder clinicians and researchers – even in the midst of a global pandemic. Possible links to SARS-CoV2 has even stirred uneasiness in patients, and physicians making diagnoses.
Beginning in Victorian-era England, a young boy presented to the doctor’s office with symptoms suggestive of scarlet fever; however, noticing heart disease in this child was just baffling. Despite being unaware of this rare disease, it was beyond physicians at the time; since then, progress has been limited as clinicians still fail to comprehend the disease’s root cause.
Dating back to 1874, KD was discovered by Samuel Gee while he was dissecting the cadaver of a seven-year-old boy.
He noticed something strange, “The pericardium was natural. The heart natural in size, and the valves healthy. The coronary arteries were dilated into aneurysms at three places, namely, at the apex of the heart a small aneurysm the size of a pea; at the base of the right ventricle, close to the tip of the right auricular appendix, and near to the mouth of one of the coronary arteries, another aneurysm of the same size; and at the back of the heart, at the base of the ventricles, and in the sulcus between the ventricles, a third aneurysm the size of a horse bean. These aneurysms contained small recent clots, quite loose. The aorta near the valves, and the aortic cusp of the mitral valve, presented specks of atheroma.”
From his autopsy, evident was that Gee found aneurysms in the coronary arteries running across the surface of the boy’s heart. He then placed the specimen in a jar and provided it to the Barts Pathology Museum in London. Little did he know, that his specimen marked evidence of the earliest recorded case of KD and sparked worldwide medical curiosity. Unfortunately, when physicians 100 years later were hoping to retrieve samples from the specimen containing the boy’s heart, they were informed that it was missing.
A few years later, the disease was recognized in 1967 by the Japanese physician, Tomikasu Kawasaki. Although some researchers claimed the virus was unknown, others stated KD resulted from a bacterial or fungal toxin. The windborne theory suggested that the disease was seasonal, and as such, the direction of the swaying wind played a role in infection. Others stated that since children’s immune systems are still developing and since they have just lost the protective antibodies from their mothers, they are susceptible to infection. Therefore, in Asian American household’s diets rich in soy put Asian children at greater risk due to the isoflavones. In the 1980s, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suspected chemicals as the cause of KD, inferring that disease stems from agents that trigger an overreaction of the patient’s immune system. No one knew exactly what the mechanism or cause of KD was, although many scientists speculated some theories.
Over the last decade, significant progress toward understanding the pathogenesis, history, and therapeutic interventions of KD has been fruitful. Treatment aimed at the intravenous infusion of gamma globulin antibodies derived from the plasma of blood donations has helped children recover. In contrast, other therapies of corticosteroids for immunoglobulin-resistant patients and tumor inhibitors such as etanercept, infliximab, and cyclosporin A have been other medications providing relief.
The most significant clinical debate was over the possible link between the rash and the cardiac complications seen in Asian American children. Factors responsible for KD were introduced into Japan after World War II and re-emerged in a more virulent form spreading through the industrialized Western world. Advancements in medicine, improvements in healthcare, and, notably, the use of antibiotics reduced the burden of rash and fever illnesses significantly allowing KD to be recognized as a distinct clinical entity.
Nonetheless, the enigma pervades even during the COVID19 pandemic; this time, more pressing as the ever-elusive cause of KD that troubles children’s hearts affects physicians’ sleep and worries parents’ minds. Although the story of Kawasaki disease began decades ago when a young boy’s heart was locked inside a glass specimen, its ending is still being crafted. By the time the heart is found again at the museum, and placed safely for visitors treasuring ancient history, what further knowledge and progress will the scientific community have achieved? How far will humanity have come to find answers to KD and fill in the perplexing missing piece of the puzzle?
For now, there are no answers, but the enigma continues…
Burns, Jane C., and Howard I. Kushner. “Kawasaki Disease: A Brief History.” American Academy of Pediatrics, 2000, DOI: 10.1542/peds.106.2.e27 pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/106/2/e27.full.pdf.
One of the most convenient ways of learning and remembering the main components of disease and identifying a medical condition on an exam are Triads, and medical students/interns/residents swear by them.
Be it a question during rounds, a multiple-choice exam question to be solved, or even in medical practice, the famous triads help physicians recall important characteristics and clinical features of a disease or treatment in an instant.
Since exam season is here, this could serve as a rapid review to recall the most common medical conditions.
While there are a vast number of triads/pentads available online, I have listed the most important (high-yy) ones that every student would be asked about at least once in the duration of their course.
1) Lethal Triad also known as The Trauma Triad of Death Hypothermia + Coagulopathy + Metabolic Acidosis
COVID-19 pandemic has caused drastic changes in personal and educational lives of medical students, who hold a unique position between being a student and a part of the health care workforce (1). The role of senior medical students who are on the brink of becoming licenced physicians, in particular, have been discussed thoroughly by experts from the perspective of safety, education and the need for skilled workforce. As the discussions continue, medical students got to stay home – as it should be, in my opinion – at least in most countries. Remote learning became the primary training modality all in a sudden.
Remote learning, even though the safest option, is not free of problems. Studying from home and continuing daily routine require a strong determination, especially when people have a lot on their minds. But most of all, clinical and procedural skills are hard, if not impossible, to translate into online learning. Medical students need alternative methods to physical practice of clinical and procedural skills, other than reading instructions and watching procedural videos. Mental practice may offer a solution for medical students who want to sharpen or at least retain procedural skills at home.
What is Mental Practice?
Mental practice refers to the introspective rehearsal or visualisation of psychomotor skills (2). It has been called many names including ‘‘imaginary practice,’’ ‘‘covert rehearsal,’’ ‘‘conceptualization,’’ or ‘‘mental imagery rehearsal’.’ It has been researched extensively in sports literature and is shown to provide both cognitive and motivational benefits (3). Can it do the same trick for medical training, though? At this point, being sceptical is perfectly normal. Let’s look into the literature.
The History of Mental Practice
Surprisingly, even as early as the 1900s, the scientists were discussing the effect of ideational elements in motor learning (4). In the 1930s, pioneer researchers had already experimented on rats that were deprived of kinesthetic impulses by sectioning of the cervical cord and discovered that even they could not run the maze as perfectly as normal rats in terms of motor skills, they still learned it (5, 6, 7). They asserted that kinesthetic impulses were neither sufficient nor necessary in learning of the motor skill. A few years later in 1940, researchers observed ideational clues helped human subjects to learn basic motor skills making fewer attempts, committing fewer errors, and spending less time (8). Subsequent studies tested mental practice against the physical in basketball free throws, dart games, and ring toss (9, 10). All reached the same conclusion: Mental practice was effective, even about as effective as physical practice in learning of motor skills.
What About Medical Training?
Experiments on the use of mental practice in the area of medical training started a few decades later. One of the first studies examined the use of mental practice in the pelvic examination. The students who did 5-minute audio-guided mental practices before and after the physical practice on a model performed significantly better at skill examination (11). Research in this area has gained momentum recently. Mental practice was shown to facilitate medical students’ learning of suturing, venipuncture, cricothyroidotomy, and lumbar puncture (12-15). In some studies, it performed as effective as physical practice, and superior to studying text (12, 16).
The evidence shows that mental practice can be a strong and free learning tool. It can serve as a satisfactory substitute for physical practice in the days of the pandemic, which forces medical students to stay at home. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Mental practice does not provide all of the answers. Remember the rats: They still needed motor practice to run perfectly and as fast as normal rats (7). In other words, you still need the train your muscles to operate smoothly what you have learned. Even after years of mental practice, one could never score a free throw if he or she is lacking the muscle strength to make the ball reach the basket. Admittedly, most medical procedures do not require large motor skills or much strength, but they still demand well-trained small muscles. However, until the world figures out how to put a medical student and a simulator together in the same room safely, the mental practice seems like a solid way of learning new procedures.
Whether you are an optimist, a pessimist, or a strict realist is likely to impact how you would project potential effects of COVID on the post-COVID world.
I would argue that from the medical-practical perspective, the three attitudes above are not mutually exclusive. As we often conclude when reading pro- and con- arguments for a new legislature, unrefined reality allows for enough mixed data and scattered observations upon which to base and justify either stance.
My approach here is more of realistic anticipation: what changes to our global emergency care practice environment may result from what we are experiencing today? Undoubtedly, such changes will affect trainees a lot more than seasoned EM providers.
While by no means a new thing, Telemedicine has advanced exponentially over the last few months and has come to the forefront of medical care in terms of its scope, breadth, and practical applications.
I am what my spouse would call “technologically challenged” (if she were to put it kindly). Yet even a tech-doofus (me) has had to dabble in Telehealth over the last few weeks – both inside my ED and to reach patients thousands of miles away.
TAKE-HOME: The earlier and the more you get exposed to Telemedicine, the smoother your future tele-practice will be. Telemedicine to EM today is sort of like what Ultrasound was to EM twenty years ago. I see an EM Telemedicine fellowship coming your way.
Local Resource Preparedness
Everyone now realizes that you need to have tucked away but keep readily available roughly two N-95 masks per healthcare worker per day for three hundred and sixty-five days, amen.
Which changes in how entire healthcare systems are financed are necessary is a huge comprehensive topic. But point-preparedness, as in being ready at the actual place where you and I live and work locally, is a much easier thing to wrap our heads around and become directly involved in.
TAKE-HOME: Find others like you, cooperate, get involved, and make your voices and opinions heard and count. We do not know when the Penguin flu or SARS-5 will hit us, but surely they will and with a vengeance. There is a tacit hope we will be smarter and more prepared next time.
I do not know if golf practice makes you better at playing basketball or swimming at karate. But I do know that we have become so specialized, it is almost like there are hand specialists nowadays who will only deal with the left index finger.
COVID has shown all of us that it is not helpful to only possess knowledge and skills within the comfort zone of your specialty or sub-specialty.
As an EM doc, I have been okay with my ventilator and ARDS management skills. But the last few weeks have been extraordinary in reading up on anything from the forgotten basics of epidemiology and virology to palliative care. And that’s a good habit of keeping up for the future.
TAKE-HOME: Get out of your profession’s shell and encourage others to do the same. EM standing for Everything Medicine has never been more true. We are kind of lucky that way.
Sorting Out The Trash In Medical Literature
It is one thing to be able to verbally shred a New England or a Lancet paper at a leisurely journal club; it is quite another to be able to apply new (or old) reported research to clinical practice without harming anyone.
In the times of YouTube anxieties and misinformation, the latter task becomes even more crucial yet difficult. COVID controversies ranging from antimalarials to early intubation are a prime example.
But the good news with COVID is that I think we have just been handed the requirement for a free refresher course on how to appraise medical literature critically. We have to do this under pressure, without much time, and, arguably, fighting with our own natural inclination that “to do something is better than doing nothing.”
TAKE-HOME: Less YouTube, more journal clubs. Our relatively young standard of evidence-based medicine is being tested worldwide like never before. Let us wish for it to perform well and withstand all the temptations. And yes, you do need to become a pro with this one.
Patient Privacy and Empty EDs - As They Were Intended?
These points are controversial. But with medical information privacy requirements being loosened in many locations and with fewer non-COVID patients going to EDs, it is a valid question to ask: is right now how things should have always been?
Whether certain patients do not belong to an ED is a complex topic. Finding the golden middle between protecting confidential patient information and enabling providers to reach and treat patients most efficiently is likewise easier said than done.
For now, I am just inviting you to think about it.
TAKE-HOME: It may be that things will never go back to how they were. Perhaps we have all overdid it with patient privacy laws that, for a long time, had trumped basic common sense. It may also prove that no one will suffer a dire consequence because they chose to call a doctor via video rather than to drive to an ED. Keep a lookout for good data.
Viruses In Focus
After decades and billions poured into research, we finally have stuff against HIV. Hepatitis and the herpes families are the two runners up, plus we developed a few effective vaccines like the MMR – but that’s about it really.
So much time and focus have gone into killing bacteria, we have somewhat neglected the other big guy. Until now.
TAKE-HOME: Nobel price winner Joshua Lederberg once said that “The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on this planet is the virus.” You will likely be practicing during an era of unprecedented anti-viral efforts. Just like with bacteria, we may not succeed all the way. But as long as we do not all turn into zombies, it’s okay.
The Cure For The Common Burnout
Emotional exhaustion may indeed be the key factor in professional burnout for emergency care providers. But other factors contribute as well – including feeling unappreciated or not needed, and work seems routine and mundane.
We now have COVID, which has reignited the fire for many EM providers, no matter how deep are those post-N95 facial marks. Otherwise, why would one fly to New York or elsewhere right now “to help”?
Frontline medicine certainly takes its toll on you. But hardly anyone in our specialty should feel not needed or unappreciated anymore.
TAKE-HOME: Wake up and go to bed humbled, proud, and lucky to be able to do this work.
The few changes I have listed come from a very long list. Whether they will prove to be overwhelmingly positive remains to be seen. Of course, future benefits do not negate the tremendous harm and suffering the pandemic has already brought and will continue to bring in the months to come.
But one thing is for sure: COVID is not the last time we are dealing with something like this. What your attitude and knowledge will be then, is up to you.
In this post, we are sharing an announcement with you. One of our contributors, Dr. Emilie Calvello Hynes has something to share with you. Here is her message.
The Global Emergency Care Initiative has created and maintained its Emergency Care Pathways since 2018 on AgileMD in collaboration with the African Federation of Emergency Medicine. We have recently updated and expanded guidance to reflect COVID-19 care in low and middle-income countries.
If you have colleagues in other countries who could use curated, clinical support in a single source that is updated daily, please consider letting them know about this resource. A flyer attached to aid in dissemination.
We welcome your thoughts and the ability to disseminate this resource further.
The AFEM/GECI Emergency Care Pathways were launched in 2018 to provide an “at the bedside” reference to help standardized emergency care for common presentations of acute illness for healthcare workers working with limited resources.
The pathways are available online/offline, available via an app or in printable form. The pathways integrate WHO Emergency Care Checklists, updated AFEM Handbook recommendations, WHO Essential Medication Lists and accepted international standards (e.g. Helping Babies Breathe, MSF Guidelines) as a summary reference of best-practice care. The pathways have been peer-reviewed and tagged for differing levels of possible interventions based on resources. The Emergency Care Pathways are meant to be applied after the initial assessment and management taught by the WHO BEC.
In addition, the app serves as a repository for open access commonly reference texts, useful protocols, forms and links. The pathways have been updated to reflect useful at the bedside guidance for clinicians during the COVID-19 pandemic. Resources and clinical guidance are updated almost daily. The links include ACEP guidance, AFEM, WHO, Partners in Health and any other resources we think would be helpful to clinicians practicing in LMICs.
It’s 2 AM, and the Pediatric Emergency Department (ED) at a community hospital in New York is overflowing with children and caregivers. A young Nigerian boy is being transported down the center of a hallway, past a long line of doors to patient rooms. The porter is calm and walks briskly, determined to bring this boy to get immediate care. The boy winces, his hands outstretched next to him, rigid, and frozen in space, and while he is seated in the wheelchair, his legs bent at the knees are thin frames, held in place with his feet planted on the wheelchair pedestals. He is afraid to move any of his extremities; tears are rolling down his face; he is fighting the urge to grimace and furrow his brow. He cries how much it hurts to move. He knows he needs help. Behind him, his mother follows close holding a one-year-old baby in her arms, and behind her, five other young children aged 3 through to thirteen stream in. There is quiet concern on all of their faces. The older siblings have seen this before. We learn that he has Sickle Cell Disease (SCD). He has been in excruciating pain for the past 4 hours and is now presenting with dactylitis. This case has not been the first in this ED, and like other EDs across the United States and in the world, the number of cases presenting with SCD will increase.
Sickle Cell Disease (SCD)
SCD is a condition that causes red blood cells to morph from a biconcave dumbbell-shaped disc, into a rigid semi-circular shape. This disease is inherited genetically by receiving two sickle genes, one from each parent and risk for complications are attributed to a variety of factors, including deoxygenation, dehydration. It is most common in African Americans as well as Latinos and people of Middle Eastern, Indian, Asian and Mediterranean backgrounds. In the United States, SCD is the most common genetic blood disorder and affects approximately 100,000 Americans(1) and although babies are screened at birth, management plans vary with the degree of disease progression and exacerbation severity, as well as with the availability of resources and education.
Why Emergency Physicians need to be Familiar with SCD
SCD affects both pediatric and adult patients, and it has been reported that patients between the ages of 18 to 30 years old have increased emergency department utilization. A major reason for this is due to the transition by young adults from pediatric to adult care in the management of SCD, and this population is simultaneously also learning to navigate the health care system and community resources (pediatric to adult care, insurance, independent decision making, housing, education, workforce) as discussed further below(2). In addition, the use of community health workers is important as they can act as liaisons between the health care systems and patients to disseminate information and resources. However, despite the awareness of the disproportionate use of the ED among patients with SCD, the social factors that impact care remain unknown(3) and more research and investigation is needed to understand this patient population.
Often when a complication or crisis occurs in patients with SCD, patients seek immediate care in the Emergency Department. Included in the potential list of complications include infections, such as those with encapsulated bacteria; sepsis; stroke; splenic sequestration, and early treatment is essential in managing patients. Of these complaints, the emergent cases to be aware of in the ED include vaso-occlusive crisis and pain, sickle cell anemia (SCA)(4) central nervous system such as stroke, and acute chest syndrome (ACS), where ACS due to blocked capillaries in the lungs, may be caused by infections, asthma exacerbations and/or pulmonary embolisms, and is the leading cause of morbidity in patients with SCD. Further, the Emergency Severity Index (ESI) Version 4 triage system, commonly used in the majority of EDs in the United States, suggest that patients with SCD be triaged as ESI level 2, indicating a very high priority, and that rapid placement be facilitated(5).
Although the discussion of complications of SCD including the presentation and management is a complex topic, and will be covered in detail in future posts, information and algorithms for clinicians are available online for reference. One such resource is a treatment algorithm that acts as a how-to guide for SCD and is available online in the Annals of Emergency Medicine(6). This approach is based on the point-of-care hemoglobin level, and discusses issues such as myonecrosis, aplastic crisis, ACS.
Pain in SCD
When tissues and organs are not adequately perfused with oxygen, in part due to the sickled shape of RBCs, tissue damage and death can occur. Patient management of vaso-occulusive crisis and pain varies by practices and the medications available for use around the world, however it is important to note that pain in patients with SCD is often extreme and may require treatment with opioids. In a response to the American Society of Hematology (ASH) draft recommendations to Sickle Cell Disease-Related Pain in May 2019(7), emDOCs.net published a response to the drafted recommendations and offered insight to pain management and includes an algorithm(8). The insight provided is essential in decreasing the suffering experienced by patients during an SCD crisis, and notes the use of Dilaudid, Ketamine, Dexmedetomidine, and Lidocaine. Further, the understanding of limiting the use of NSAIDS due to impaired renal function caused by the disease is also outlined in the response.
Management of pain in pediatric patients with SCA and vaso-occulsive pain also varies according to hospital and individual provider practices, and scientific investigation and patient research is needed to provide proper care to this population. An example includes a study by PECARN addressing the use of a normal saline bolus in pediatric emergency departments found an association with poorer pain control(9). Identifying and implementing results from research studies is important in understanding and managing SCD in both adult and pediatric patients.
Emergency Physicians around the world should be aware of strategies for identifying SCD, and management, specifically in areas around the world where refugees from countries with SCD prevalence is common. Countries where refugees and migrants are commonly are known to disembark, such as those in southern Europe(10) and certain areas in the United States and Canada would benefit from in-depth analysis of the issue and could allow for appropriate and accessible health care to vulnerable populations, as well as educate providers who are unexposed to managing emergencies in SCD patients while setting in place integrated and individual health plans away from emergency room dependence(11). In developing countries with SCD populations, such as Nigeria, there is a high prevalence of pediatric emergency cases, and the proper management of the disease as well as policy and hospital organization for high volume and off-hour admissions, may reduce hospital stays(12). Further, the self-efficacy of adult patients with SCD, from education, pro-active efforts, understanding of disease management, also can allow for decreased ED visits and hospitalizations for pain(13).
Investigations, Resources, Education
A number of investigative studies, clinical trials and research is being conducted around the world for a better understanding of SCD, including patient care in adult and pediatric patients, genetic factors, supportive services, associated co-morbidities, and search for cures. Investigations around the world include collaborations and information sharing between academic researchers, patients, clinical providers, and health care providers and officials around the world.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute hosted a series of Webinars in September 2018, during Sickle Cell awareness month from experts in blood science and sickle science research and are available to watch for free online(14). Some of the key highlights from two of the webinars: Serving the Sickle Cell Disease Community Here and Abroad; Sickle Cell Transitional Care from Childhood to Adulthood, are discussed here.
Webinar Overview Serving the Sickle Cell Disease Community Here and Abroad Presented by Dr. Keith Hoots, Director of Division of Blood Diseases and Resources, NHLBI
Prevalence of the disease is so much larger in Africa than most places in the world. There are as many babies born with SCD born in Nigeria there are babies born with SCD, by estimate, as there almost are total people with SCD in the United States.
There is a need to share research and practices in the developed world with the developing world.
Three New Research Initiatives in Africa:
The Sickle Pan-African Research Consortium (SPARCO) Overview: The study sites for this research include East Africa (Tanzania), West Africa (Ghana, Nigeria) and central Africa (Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo) with the goal to later include 20 sites in 15 countries. SPARCO’s aim is to develop an SCD database, standards of care, and strengthen research investigation.
Sickle Cell Disease Genomics of Africa (SickleGenAfrica) Overview: The purpose is to develop strategies to predict, prevent and treat organ damage in SCD and to investigate biomarkers associated with the development of organ damage, including molecules released during red blood cell damage in sub-Saharan African populations.
Webinar Overview: Sickle Cell Transitional Care from Childhood to Adulthood Part 1 Presented by Dr. David Wong, MD, FAAP, Medical Officer, Office of Minority Health
SCD is no longer a childhood disease. Young adults are at a higher risk for hospitalization due to illness and pain.
Treatment and management examples in childhood include annual transcranial dopplers to assess for risk of stroke; vaccinations; hydroxyurea; L-glutamine; opioids for pain management; penicillin prophylaxis; RBC transfusions; water intake to avoid exacerbations due to dehydration; splenectomy. The cure available is bone marrow transplant.
Prior to July 2017, Hydroxyurea was the only FDA approved therapy for 20 It is used in adults and children. It has been shown to reduces hospital admissions, pain crisis, and ACS however barriers to hydroxyurea use exist. These include difficulty with communicating the use to patients and caregivers, issues with frequent monitoring, lack of adherence, lack of provider knowledge and comfort with its use.
Community Health Workers (CHWs) are key players in effective patient care. CHW can provide information affected by social and health determinants from local economic and environmental (housing, employment), local communities (families, safety, support), activities (learn, work, play, move, shop), lifestyles (alcohol, drugs, smoking, sexual health, physical activity, and individual needs (age, genetics). CHW are experts in condition-specific information and navigating complex health systems, including accessing care in a medical home (the approach to providing comprehensive care). This is particularly important when care is not always contained or organized by one organization, where care should be accessible, continuous, comprehensive, family-oriented, coordinated, compassionate and culturally competent. Pediatric medical home principles include family-centered partnerships, community-based systems, transition care, value. Interventions for education such as warning signs and treatment options and links to care are important.
The SCD Newborn screening program, and the Sickle Cell Disease Treatment Demonstration Program for patients who solely rely on the ED for SCD care, aid the care options for patients with SCD.
Follow this iEM story for part two which will include information on adult and pediatric management of SCD in the ED, as well as an overview of four NHLBI webinars: Holistic Health and Sickle Cell Disease A Focus on Mental and Behavioral Health; Genetic Therapies in Sickle Cell Disease; Bone Marrow Transplants, Other Therapies, and Sickle Cell; Improvement Initiatives and Ongoing Research.
A couple of days ago, a friend told me about an incident that had occurred on a plane where a middle-aged man was found to have epistaxis (bleeding from the nose) midway between a 4-hour flight. Although epistaxis has various degrees of severity and only a small percent are life-threatening, the sight of blood, no matter the amount, is a cause of panic and anxiety for everyone. Hence, the cabin crew was called and helped in managing the patient until the flight landed.
Some of the causes of epistaxis on a flight are dryness in the nose due to changes in cabin pressure and air conditioning. Other causes depend on patients’ previous health problems, which may include medications such as warfarin, bleeding disorders, nose-picking.
As important as it is to learn the emergency management of epistaxis in a hospital setting, often you come across a scenario such as this, in your daily life and its essential to know how to manage it, out of the hospital setting or even in the emergency department, while taking history or waiting to be seen.
The following are a few steps you can take for initial conservative management of epistaxis:
Make sure they are breathing normally and not in any distress, asses their condition and if you think this could be a major emergency, contact the doctor or call for an ambulance
Ask them to bend forward toward their waist while sitting up (to prevent swallowing of blood)
Place cotton wool or tissue into the bleeding part of the nose
Pinch the soft part (alae tightly against the septum) of the nose just above the nostrils for 10-15 minutes
Blowing the nose to expel blood and clots
Additionally, an ice pack can be pressed on the bridge of the nose to stop bleeding
If the following measures fail, further medical management may be advised.
Epistaxis is acute hemorrhage from the nose, nostrils, nasopharynx, and can be either anterior or posterior, depending on the source of bleeding. It is one of the most common Otolaryngological Emergencies.
Anterior bleeds are the most common, and a large proportion is self-limited. The most common site is ‘Little’s area’ also known as Kiesselbach’s plexus (Anastomosis of three primary vessels occurs in this area: the septal branch of the anterior ethmoidal artery; the lateral nasal branch of the sphenopalatine artery; and the septal branch of the superior labial branch of the facial artery).
We recently had the 3rd Tanzanian Conference on Emergency Medicine.Point of Care Ultrasound (PoCUS) training was one of the pre-conference workshops. Ultrasound-guided intravenous cannulation can be very challenging for many doctors in the emergency department.
Therefore, we had a station providing a real-time opportunity to practice IV access using our homemade ultrasound phantoms. And I shall share with you how we came up with this solution.
A plastic container (dimensions used here 8 x 5.5 x 5inches)
Assorted food colors
Powdered household detergent
Spoon, sieve, hand mixer, measuring cup, cooking pot and cooker
How to make your mixture
Take a cooking pot and fill it with 1200 mls of water (we used this as our molding device could accommodate this amount of mls) bring it to a boil (just as it begins to form tiny bubbles on the base add gelatin powder 8 tablespoons and stir with a hand mixer until it completely dissolves. Thereby add 2 tablespoons of Metamucil and 1 tablespoon of detergent and continue stirring with low flame until the mixture begins to thicken. At this point, you will also see foam that sits on top of the mix. Use a sieve to get the foam out. You can, at this point, add any colors that you would want. Let the mixture cool a little before pouring it into the container. As it cools, you will notice it becoming thicker.
How to set-up your mold/containers
You will need to make a hole on both ends on the container using a hand drill or a hot pointed knife. For this case, since we didn’t have a drill, we used a knife with a pointed tip – heated it up in a burner until it was hot enough and used it to make holes through the plastic container using a circular motion. It is important for the holes not to be too big but estimated to the caliber/ diameter of the long balloons since we need just enough space to pass the balloons across.
For our case, we made 4 holes, 2 on each end. But you can do more if you want. You can arrange balloons in superficial or deeper locations.
To setup the vessels using the long balloons, you will need half cup of water and red color dye. Mix just enough to make a mixture that looks like blood. This can be filled in the balloons with a syringe. Since the color dye can stain your fingers, it is important to use gloves just to prevent your fingers from staining.
Tip:To make an artery, you can fill the balloon much more so that there is minimal compressibility and for the vein, you can fill just enough and have room for compressibility. Don’t fill the balloons before passing it through the container; if you do this, the filled balloon won’t manage to fit into the holes. Once fixed, tie both ends to make knots that are big enough to cover the seal the holes made. Before pouring the mixture into the container, spray it with some oil, or you can use a cloth dip it in oil and apply it on the inside of the container.
After that, pour your mixture in the container and let it cool. You can place it in the refrigerator and use it the next day. We left ours for 24 hrs prior use.
You can use silicone seals at the holes if you notice to have any leaks. Otherwise, if you don’t have this, you can use plastic food wrap to create a seal between the balloon knots and the container just so the mixture does not leak out until it has set.
And finally, the images that you will have on ultrasound.
The use of realistic simulation on medical teaching is increasingly being used in the universities of Brasilia. The controlled environment training brings important benefits and develops the non-technical skills of participants. Therefore, the Congress of Medical Emergencies of the Federal District that took place this month in Brasilia, Brazil, promoted a realistic MEDICAL EMERGENCY SIMULATION OLYMPICS (literal translation: Gincana de Simulação em Emergências Médicas – G.SEM) with medical and nursing students. The participants felt tremendous satisfaction and acknowledgment of their own flaws that must be improved before they graduate.
However, what does realistic simulation mean? By definition, “it is the technique, not technology, for reproducing or amplifying real experiences by guided experiences that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive way.” That is, we set up environments of low, medium or high complexities that mimic reality. This way, the participant can emerge in practice without putting the patient at risk.
Through Kolb’s experiential learning cycle, we can understand how learning occurs during simulation.
During the simulation, the participant takes part in concrete experience, being able to identify knowledge gaps in which he can work. At the debriefing, the instructor helps the gamer to contemplate his performance.
When the participant gives meaning to what has happened, he becomes able to abstract and modify his mental model, which will be tested with active experimentation, generating a concrete reaction.
When simulating, not only theoretical knowledge is required, but also practical knowledge, such as how to do and how to act when facing the proposed situation. Doing this kind of exercise, we can better assimilate the content in a playful and effective way. Through error, and the reframing of debriefing, the participant can retain the content with the experience that will come across in the real environment.
The simulation was first used in the aerospace industry, where one mistake could cost many lives. Therefore, the practice of simulation in medicine is indispensable since we work directly with human lives. Train, train and train! This is the emergency mantra! Because by the time you are in the Emergency Department, acting, you already need to know what to do. The time to make mistakes is in the simulation. Moreover, it’s important to keep in mind that an error-free simulation is not a simulation, it is just a theater.
It is possible to divide this learning method into some levels. Through Miller Pyramid, we can analyze the clinical capacity in four levels: know, know-how, show-how, and does. Simulation is increasingly used to teach the first three levels, as it enables the programming of specific environments and conditions to the needs of each participant, promoting a favorable outcome.
Is it like playing pretend? Yes. The simulation can be compared to a pretend play. We can’t reproduce the exact reality, so we set up a fiction contract, where the instructor admits that the simulation is not real but tries to reproduce it as faithfully as possible, and the participants agree to act as they would in real situations.
Therefore, if during a high complexity simulation, a patient with low oxygen saturation needs intubation, for example, the participant must act by observing vital signs on the monitor, asking for drugs, infusing, ventilating, and intubating the doll and not just saying what he would do.
The Chiniara et al Simulation Zone Matrix, commonly used to demonstrate the teaching of simulation in pediatric emergencies, can be extended to emergencies in general. Simulation becomes advantageous over other teaching methods in low-opportunity, high-severity situations, quadrants where emergency is, due to low student exposure and increased concern for patient safety.
With simulation, it is possible to practice technical and non-technical skills, for example, interaction with the multidisciplinary team, leadership, communication and crisis management, which is almost impossible in a classroom.
When we promoted the G.SEM – Emergency Simulation Gymkhana – held by the EMIGs in Brasilia, we had many positive feedbacks from participants, and proved to be effective in exposing to participants points that they needed to improve to raise the level of their clinical practice.
Participating in G.SEM was a very exciting experience for me, as I was able to review important concepts and behaviors in various pathologies, including the approach to cardiopulmonary arrest. It was also a very interesting emotional experience, as we had a short time to make decisions since all patients had life-threatening pathologies that needed fast decisions and actions. In this context, an adrenaline over-discharge and, consequently, tachycardia were generated, generating significant stress that leads us to the real process of approaching a critically ill patient. In addition, one of the most important positive points was the team performance, as the team consisted of 2 medical and one nursing student, so we needed to work together, respect each other and make our communication were efficient and clear. Through the scenarios, it was possible to see how much we improve as a team, and in the final scenario, we were already much more intertwined and acting in a much more organized way compared to the first one.
I also emphasize the importance of the evaluator’s feedback at the end of each season, as this allowed us to identify the errors and to correct them in the following simulations and, of course, to future.
Finally, it was a unique opportunity that certainly made me grow very intellectually and also allowed me to improve the relationship with the team, which is indispensable in a multidisciplinary context.
There were six simultaneous scenarios, including two pre-hospital scenarios that were assembled by firefighters. G.SEM took place at the Uniceplac Realistic Simulation Center, with the support of the DF Fire Department, and the International Student Association of Emergency Medicine (ISAEM).
Content and Details
4 multidisciplinary teams, each consists of 3 medical students and 1 senior nursing student.
6 simultaneous scenarios. All teams exposed to all scenarios. 1) Diabetic ketoacidosis in children, 2) Intra-hospital care for multiple trauma patients, 3) Acute myocardial infarction, 4) Sepsis, 5) Pre-hospital care for multiple trauma patients (car x bicycle accident), 6) Pre-hospital care for cardiopulmonary arrest and the patient suffering from penetrating trauma.
Each scenario had a total duration of 20 minutes
Each scenario had a checklist of actions and knowledge that was expected from the team in that situation.
In the end of each simulation, the team went through a quick debriefing, for about 8 minutes, with the station instructors.
After all scenarios, there was a debriefing with the residents of emergency medicine, in order to demonstrate to participants the reality of those situations in the emergency department
The winning team was the one with the most checklist points.
The teams were awarded according to their classification.
The simulation itself already causes some anxiety in the participant, since it demonstrates its flaws and puts in check all its theoretical knowledge that should be applied in a practical way. During our emergency simulation game, we noticed an increased level of anxiety and stress from participants. It is believed that the necessity of quick decision making that the emergency requires and the short time of the season were determining factors. However, participants reported that the multidisciplinary team made the simulation environment different, that’s because nursing students do not have realistic simulations as a requirement in their course, and it’s not common the integration between the courses in a simulation scenario.
As a lesson of this event, we conclude that it is extremely important to integrate the programs in the undergraduate years, and we can use the simulations as a convergence point. It’s important to remember that the Emergency Department only works with a cohesive multidisciplinary team. One of the goals of G.SEM was to demonstrate to students this reality and break the barrier between programs by showing that the work in the Emergency Department is teamwork and that always needs team training!
References and Further Reading
Gaba DM. The future vision of simulation in healthcare. Simul healthc 2007; 2(2): 126-35
Cheng A, Duff J, Grant E, Kisson N, Grant VJ, Simulation in paediatrics: An educational revolution. Paediatri Child Health. 2007; 12(6): 465-8
Kolb DA. Experiential learning: Experience as the souce of leatning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall; 1984
Zigmont JJ, Kappus LJ, Sudikoff SN. Theoretical foundations of learning through simulation. Semin Perinatol. 2011; 35 (2): 47-51
Paizin Filho A, Scarpelini S. Simulação: Definição: Medicina (ribeirao Preto). 2007; 40(2): 162-6
Miller GE. The assessment of clinical skillscompetence/performance. Acad Med. 1990; 65 (9 Suppl): S63-7
Couto TB. SImulação realistica no ensino de emergências pediátricas na graduação. São Paulo. 2014.
Reviewed by: Bruna Martins, Jule Santos and Henrique Herpich
How do you remember the emergency department (ED) that trained you? Could it be that you have learned a lot more than just medicine there? Between worrying about the delayed laboratory report and explaining the need to rule out a myocardial injury to a visitor of a patient with peptic ulcer disease, you might have picked up other attributes. Subtle traits that have nudged your personality. Remembering the ED where I did my internship sparks nostalgia and makes me want to speed up my typing. As if I need to attend to something else right after this. Hopefully, I’ll give you a glimpse of what putting on different lenses can show even when we look at the same object.
Peeling yellow paint, some old cracks in the wall, and an acute sense of urgency lingering in the air are what I remember of the department. Patan Academy of Health Sciences has an ED where confused students scratching their heads to the witty professors’ question takes you to your own golden days. A subtle grin on the wise face of a grey-haired professor eagerly waiting for the next wrong answer makes you want to reach out to your old mentor. A know it all student on the verge of blurting out the answer physically holding himself behind makes you wonder what that one classmate of yours is doing these days. It is a place where teaching, helping people, running against time and having fun while at it, blends into an experience of a lifetime. Stories of eased pain, dodged suffering and narrow escapes from grave aliments enrich the history of the department.
One fine evening in the department as an intern I found myself seated in the doctor’s station, a rare but insightful experience. I found myself pondering about the lessons I can take from this part of the hospital: not just medical knowledge but lessons I can share with people from different facets of life. Below I list the common situations or sayings used in a typical ED and try to translate it for use in day to day life.
Think horses before zebras but watch out for zebras that can fly
A patient with mild fever, chest pain, and some respiratory distress probably has some sort of URTI. But the very fact that he/she landed up in the ED makes the doctor order an ECG because of the chest pain. The doctor will, of course, be leaning towards a more common diagnosis. Ruling out a diagnosis with grave prognosis, however, will be among the top priorities.
This can translate into studying common exam materials while also being aware of the zebras. Zebras show up rarely, but when they do, they tend to be stubborn. Be aware of the topics that don’t usually show up in your exam but impact the outcome when they do. We can also borrow this idea while thinking about anything in general. We tend to assume the worst, but when your date is late to dinner, it probably is just the busy traffic.
Communication is the key
A medical officer reads the patient’s history to the professor using as few words as possible, pertinent negatives and a precise format. The information and condition of the patient are conveyed very accurately. When reporting history, we aim for effective communication at its best.
I wonder how many day-to-day problems can be solved if only we communicated that efficiently outside of history taking and reporting. Using clear words, very few fillers and addressing what we don’t mean beforehand can help in getting the intended message across.
The most critical patients that visit Patan Hospital head for the ED. Recognizing them and treating the ones who need immediate attention is the second nature of a good emergency physician. Likewise, being able to focus on the most critical aspects of one’s life can be an attribute worth borrowing from the department.
How many times do we complain that we just do not have enough time to do things that are important to us? It’s mostly about deciding what comes first.
This sort of ties into the previous one. Most experienced physician attends the most critical patient. More nurses are allocated to and the best USG machine is used in the red triage area. Time, money, physical or mental effort all are resources we use to get tasks done. Sometimes success differs from failure, not in how much effort is put but where it is used. Determining which task is most resource-intensive or most productive can be a worthwhile idea to learn from the ED.
Did you check your tools?
Monitor connected to a gradually stabilizing patient beeps rapidly, indicating a sudden collapse. As you run towards the patient with your ACLS neurons firing at a rate more rapid than the patient’s declining pulse, do take a look if the pulse oximeter is connected correctly. Translated in the world where things go south more frequently than not, decide if it is a perceived problem or a real one. How many times have you let yourself go into flight or fight mode only to realize that the threat wasn’t even there?
Give thiamine before glucose
Hypoglycemia kills. Glucose save lives. Even then, giving thiamine before glucose is the norm in most EDs. The biochemistry behind is simple; thiamine is a cofactor used by many enzymes in glucose metabolism and depleting more thiamine can cause Wernicke Korsakoff disease. Look at it with the lens of a student who needs to start preparing for an exam. Determine your thiamine (proper sleep, good food, exercise, enough water and probably mindfulness). Only then glucose supplementation (studying) will yield results.
The loudest screamer isn’t always suffering the most
“How do you triage when there are more people than you can attend to?” asked a professor. The answer was funny but made a point firmly. “You should ask the most critical patients to come forward. Then you attend those that are left behind!”. The idea being; sickest of them all won’t even be able to advocate for themselves. Similarly, we can be tactful when overwhelmed by problems. Try to come up with ideas to segregate the screamers (problems that seem to be the biggest) from the sickest (actual problems).
Know your limits and ask for help
We manage acute exacerbation of COPD in the ED. Not all patients that feel relieved are discharged from there. Some patients require medical consultation and transfer. This, in no way, means that the ER physicians are incompetent in managing the disease throughout. Rather it is the evidence of understanding the job description and trust in the system as a whole. Asking for help when need be is critical to our wellbeing. Being able to ask for help shows courage and humility above all.