Wheeze, a common symptom in pre-school children, is a continuous high-pitched sound, with a musical quality, emitting from the chest during expiration. A pragmatic clinical classification is episodic (viral) wheeze and multiple-trigger wheeze. Diagnostic difficulties include other conditions that give rise to noisy breathing which could be misinterpreted as wheeze. Most preschool children with wheeze do not need rigorous investigations. Primary prevention is not possible but avoidance of environmental tobacco smoke exposure should be strongly encouraged. Bronchodilators provide symptomatic relief in acute wheezy episodes but the evidence for using oral steroids is conflicting for children presenting to the Emergency Department [ED]. Parent initiated oral steroid courses cannot be recommended. High dose inhaled corticosteroids [ICS] used intermittently are effective in children with frequent episodes of moderately severe episodic (viral) wheeze or multiple-trigger wheeze, but this associated with short term effects on growth and cannot be recommended as a routine. Maintenance treatment with low to moderate continuous ICS in pure episodic (viral) wheeze is ineffective. Whilst low to moderate dose regular ICS work in multi-trigger wheeze, the medication does not modify the natural history of the condition. Even if there is a successful trial of treatment with ICS, a break in treatment should be given to see if the symptoms have resolved or continuous therapy is still required. Maintenance as well as intermittent Montelukast has a role in both episodic and multi trigger wheeze. Good multidisciplinary support and education is essential in managing this common condition.
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