Background: Acute bronchiolitis is the leading cause of medical emergencies during winter in children younger than two years of age. Chest physiotherapy is thought to assist infants in the clearance of secretions and to decrease ventilatory effort.
Objectives: To determine the efficacy and safety of chest physiotherapy in infants aged less than 24 months old with acute bronchiolitis.
Search strategy: In June 2006 we updated the searches of the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library Issue 2, 2006); MEDLINE (2004 to May Week 4 2006); EMBASE (July 2004 to December 2005) and CINAHL (1982 to May Week 4 2006).
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in which chest physiotherapy was compared against no intervention or against another type of physiotherapy in paediatric patients younger than 24 months old.
Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently extracted the data. The primary outcome was a severity clinical score. Secondary outcomes were length of hospital stay, duration of oxygen supplementation, and the use of bronchodilators and steroids.
Main results: Three clinical trials met the inclusion criteria. All evaluated vibration and percussion techniques with children in postural drainage positions compared to no intervention. The study populations were hospitalised infants with a clinical diagnosis of acute bronchiolitis, although one study included only infants who required nasogastric tube feeding or intravenous fluids. None of the other included trails observed any differences in the severity of the clinical score at day five, during each of the five days of the trial, or until discharge; length of hospital stay; or oxygen requirements between paediatric patients receiving chest physiotherapy and control.
Authors' conclusions: Based on the results of three RCTs, chest physiotherapy using vibration and percussion techniques does not reduce length of hospital stay, oxygen requirements, or improve the severity clinical score in infants with acute bronchiolitis. These were infants who were not on mechanical ventilation and who did not have any other co-morbidity. Chest physiotherapy using forced expiratory techniques needs to be further evaluated by clinical research.