Context: Children with croup are often treated with humidity even though this is not scientifically based, consumes time, and can be harmful. Although humidity using the traditional blow-by technique is similar to room air and no water droplets reach the nasopharynx, particles sized for laryngeal deposition (5-10 microm) could be beneficial.
Objective: To determine whether a significant difference in the clinical Westley croup score exists in children with moderate to severe croup who were admitted to the emergency department and who received either 100% humidity or 40% humidity via nebulizer or blow-by humidity.
Design and setting: A randomized, single-blind, controlled trial conducted between 2001 and 2004 in a tertiary care pediatric emergency department.
Participants: A convenience sample of 140 previously healthy children 3 months to 10 years of age with Westley croup score of more than 1 or 2 or higher (scoring system range, 0-17); 21 families refused participation.
Intervention: Thirty-minute administration of humidity using traditional blow-by technique (commonly used placebo, n = 48), controlled delivery of 40% humidity (optimally delivered placebo, n = 46), or 100% humidity (n = 46) with water particles of mass median diameter 6.21 microm.
Main outcome measure: A priori defined change in the Westley croup score from baseline to 30 and 60 minutes in the 3 groups.
Results: Groups were comparable before treatment. At 30 minutes the difference in the improvement in the croup score between the blow-by and low-humidity groups was 0.03 (95% confidence interval [CI], -0.72 to 0.66), between low- and high-humidity groups, 0.16 (95% CI, -0.86 to 0.53), and between blow-by and high-humidity groups, 0.19 (95% CI, -0.87 to 0.49). Results were similar at 60 minutes. Differences between groups in pulse and respiratory rates and oxygen saturation changes were insignificant, as were proportions of excellent responders; proportions with croup score of 0 at study conclusion; and proportions receiving dexamethasone, epinephrine, or requiring additional medical care or hospitalization.
Conclusions: One hundred percent humidity with particles specifically sized to deposit in the larynx failed to result in greater improvement than 40% humidity or humidity by blow-by technique. This study does not support the use of humidity for moderate croup for patients treated in the emergency department.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT00230841.