Background: Previous studies have demonstrated that in the emergency treatment of an asthma exacerbation, corticosteroids used in conjunction with beta-agonists result in lower hospitalization rates for children and adults. Furthermore, orally administered corticosteroids have been found to be effective in the treatment of outpatients with asthma. However, similar data in inpatients is lacking.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine the efficacy of oral prednisone versus intravenous methylprednisolone in equivalent doses for the treatment of an acute asthma exacerbation in hospitalized children.
Methods: We conducted a randomized, double-blind, double-placebo study comparing oral prednisone at 2 mg/kg/dose (maximum 120 mg/dose) twice daily versus intravenous methylprednisolone at 1 mg/kg/dose (maximum 60 mg/dose) four times daily in a group of patients 2 through 18 years of age hospitalized for an acute asthma exacerbation. All patients were assessed by a clinical asthma score 3 times a day. The main study outcome was length of hospitalization; total length of stay and time elapsed before beta-agonists could be administered at 6-hour intervals. Duration of supplemental oxygen administration and peak flow measurements were secondary outcome measures.
Results: Sixty-six patients were evaluated. Children in the prednisone group had a mean length of stay of 70 hours compared with 78 hours for the methylprednisolone group (P =.52). Children in the prednisone group were successfully weaned to beta-agonists in 6-hour intervals after 59 hours compared with 68 hours for the methylprednisolone group (P =.47). Patients receiving prednisone required supplemental oxygen for 30 hours compared with 52 hours for the methylprednisolone group (P =.04).
Conclusion: There was no difference in length of hospital stay between asthmatic patients receiving oral prednisone and those receiving intravenous methylprednisolone. Because hospitalization charges are approximately 10 times greater for intravenous methylprednisolone compared with oral prednisone, the use of oral prednisone to treat inpatients with acute asthma would result in substantial savings.