Background: Studies in adults, but not in children, have shown a beneficial effect of one dose of steroid on the severity and duration of throat pain in acute pharyngitis. The effectiveness of longer steroid treatment has not been evaluated in children.
Methods: We performed a randomized, double-blind, 3-arm, placebo-controlled trial to estimate the effectiveness of one dose versus 3 daily doses of oral dexamethasone in the treatment of 4- to 21-year-old patients with group A beta-hemolytic streptococcal (GABHS) pharyngitis. Participants used the Wong-Baker FACES scale to rate their symptoms at enrollment and twice daily for 5 days. Patient-completed diaries and telephone interviews provided follow-up data. Primary end points-severity of throat pain, improvement in general condition and improvement in activity level-were evaluated by survival analysis.
Results: Ninety patients were enrolled. For each end point, we rejected the null hypothesis of a common survival experience for the 3 study arms. With the exception of 2 days for throat pain in participants receiving one dose of dexamethasone, the median time to improvement for all end points was 1 day for both arms of dexamethasone and 2 days for placebo. There was no difference between study arms in return to a clinical setting for symptoms related to GABHS pharyngitis or absenteeism from work/school. No patient experienced complications related to GABHS pharyngitis in the 30 days after enrollment.
Conclusions: In this pilot study, children with GABHS pharyngitis who receive dexamethasone as add-on therapy have a more rapid improvement in general condition and level of activity and, for those receiving 3 daily doses of dexamethasone, in resolution of throat pain.