Intramuscular versus oral dexamethasone for the treatment of moderate-to-severe croup: a randomized, double-blind trial

Acad Emerg Med. 2003 Jan;10(1):16-21. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2003.tb01971.x.


Glucocorticoids are an effective treatment for croup, although the most beneficial route of administration remains unclear. Recent studies have concluded that both intramuscular dexamethasone and oral dexamethasone are effective treatments, but there are few data directly comparing the two for moderate-to-severe croup.

Objectives: The authors' primary objective was to determine whether there is a difference in proportion of children with resolution of symptoms attributable to croup at 24 hours, when treated with oral or intramuscular dexamethasone. Secondarily, the authors sought to estimate whether there is a difference in proportion of children with resolution of symptoms attributable to croup at 10 days and to estimate the interval to complete resolution of symptoms between these two routes.

Methods: The authors performed a prospective, randomized, double-blind trial involving children aged 3-84 months with moderate-to-severe croup, presenting to a suburban teaching emergency department (ED). Patients were eligible for enrollment if they had inspiratory stridor or a barky cough and a croup score of 2 or greater after 10-15 minutes of cool mist therapy. The patients were randomized to one of two intervention groups. In both groups, the parents were not present in the treatment room during study drug administration. One group received 0.6 mg/kg of intramuscular dexamethasone and an oral placebo, while the other group received 0.6 mg/kg of oral dexamethasone and direct pressure on their thigh with the hub of a syringe. A nurse placed a Band-Aid on the site of the real or mock injection. Parents were contacted by telephone approximately 1 and 10 days after the index visit to ask about their child's symptoms using a standardized questionnaire. Data were analyzed using an intention-to-treat approach.

Results: Of 126 patients eligible, 96 were recruited, with complete follow-up on 95. The groups were similar in all baseline characteristics, treatments received in the ED, and disposition. At 24 hours and 10 days after the visit, there were no statistical differences between the groups for the proportion with stridor, expiratory sounds, barky cough, sleep pattern, the degree of improvement, or the proportion with complete resolution of symptoms at one day.

Conclusions: No statistical differences for any parameters were observed between intramuscular and oral dexamethasone treatments for children with moderate-to-severe croup at 24 hours or at any time the week after treatment. The durations of symptoms were similar between the treatment groups.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Child, Preschool
  • Croup / classification
  • Croup / drug therapy*
  • Dexamethasone / administration & dosage
  • Dexamethasone / therapeutic use*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Injections, Intramuscular
  • Male
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Dexamethasone