Background: The role of systemic corticosteroids in the treatment of early childhood wheezing in children is not clear.
Objective: We sought to determine whether prednisolone is effective in rhinovirus-induced early wheezing.
Methods: We conducted a controlled trial comparing oral prednisolone (2 mg/kg per day in three divided doses for 3 days) with placebo in 78 hospitalized children (mean age, 1.1 year; standard deviation, 0.7) experiencing their first or second episode of wheezing induced by rhinovirus or respiratory syncytial virus. Mixed viral infections were excluded. Our primary end point was the time until the patient was ready for discharge; secondary end points included oxygen saturation during hospitalization, duration of symptoms, occurrence of relapses during the next 2 months and blood eosinophil counts at discharge and 2 weeks later.
Results: In multivariate regression analysis, prednisolone did not influence the time until ready for discharge, but it decreased relapses during the subsequent 2-month period in rhinovirus-affected children (prednisolone versus placebo, 22% versus 56%; odds ratio, 19.06; 95% confidence interval, 2.52-144.03; P = 0.004) and in children with blood eosinophils > or = 0.2 x 10/L (respectively, 24% versus 71%; odds ratio, 10.57; 95% confidence interval, 1.99-56.22; P = 0.006). Rhinovirus-affected children had more blood eosinophils on admission (mean, 0.44 versus 0.086 x 10/L), had a higher prevalence of atopy (44% versus 8%) and were older (mean, 1.4 versus 0.9 years, P < 0.001 for all) than respiratory syncytial virus-infected children.
Conclusion: Prednisolone reduced relapses during a 2-month period after first episodes of wheezing associated with rhinovirus infection or blood eosinophils > or = 0.2 x 10/L.