Pharmacologic treatment of bronchiolitis in infants and children: a systematic review

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2004 Feb;158(2):127-37. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.158.2.127.


Background: Bronchiolitis is the most common lower respiratory tract infection in infants. Up to 3% of all children in their first year of life are hospitalized with bronchiolitis. Bronchodilators and corticosteroids are commonly used treatments, but little consensus exists about optimal management strategies.

Objective: To conduct a systematic review of the effectiveness of commonly used treatments for bronchiolitis in infants and children.

Data sources: We searched MEDLINE and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register for references to randomized controlled trials of bronchiolitis treatment published since 1980.

Study selection: Randomized controlled trials of interventions for bronchiolitis in infants and children were included if they were published in English between 1980 and November 2002 and had a minimum sample size of 10.

Data extraction: We abstracted data on characteristics of the study population, interventions used, and results of studies meeting entry criteria into evidence tables and analyzed them by drug category.

Data synthesis: Interventions were grouped by drug category and qualitatively synthesized.

Results: Of 797 abstracts identified in the literature search, we included 54 randomized controlled trials. This review includes 44 studies of the most common interventions: epinephrine (n = 8), beta2-agonist bronchodilators (n = 13), corticosteroids (n = 13), and ribavirin (n = 10). Studies were, in general, underpowered to detect statistically significant outcome differences between study groups. Few studies collected data on outcomes that are of great importance to parents and clinicians, such as the need for and duration of hospitalization.

Conclusions: Overall, little evidence supports a routine role for any of these drugs in treating patients with bronchiolitis. A sufficiently large, well-designed pragmatic trial of the commonly used interventions for bronchiolitis is needed to determine the most effective treatment strategies for managing this condition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Bronchiolitis / drug therapy*
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Epinephrine / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Ribavirin / therapeutic use


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Antiviral Agents
  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Ribavirin
  • Epinephrine