Rationale: Evidence-based medicine represents the effort to highlight the best intervention for patients, clinicians, and policy makers, each from their respective viewpoint, to solve a particular health condition. According to a recently diffused grading system of evidence and recommendations for medical interventions, efficacy and safety represent 2 of the most important features to consider, and data from meta-analyses of randomized controlled clinical trials (RCTs) is the strongest supporting demonstration. Fexofenadine has been used for its efficacy and safety in the treatment of allergic rhinitis (AR) for many years although no meta-analyses supporting its use currently exist. The aim of this study is to assess for the first time the efficacy and safety of fexofenadine in the treatment of AR by means of a meta-analytic analysis of existing RCTs. Since specific evidence should be provided to address recommendations in a pediatric population, the quality of the estimates of this subgroup analysis is assessed.
Methods: All double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trials assessing the efficacy of fexofenadine in AR were searched for in OVID, Medline, and Embase databases up to December 2007. Outcomes were extracted from original articles; when this information was not available, the authors of each trial were contacted. Some graphics were digitalized. The RevMan 5 program was used to perform the analysis. GradePro 3.2.2 was used to assess the quality of the evidence for a pediatric population.
Results: Of 2,152 identified articles, 20 were potentially relevant trials. Eight studies satisfied the inclusion criteria and were included in the meta-analysis. The main reasons for exclusion were: unnatural exposure, strong study limitations, an atypical outcome measurement, a design for other outcomes, and not being a placebo-controlled, single-blind study. Seven trials investigated a mixed population of adults and children, 1 trial investigated only children, and 1 trial only adults. In 1,833 patients receiving fexofenadine (1,699 placebo), a significant reduction of the daily reflective total symptom scores (TSS) (SMD –0.42; 95% CI –0.49 to –0.35, p < 0.00001) was found. Positive results were also found for morning instantaneous TSS and individual nasal symptom scores (sneezing, rhinorrhea, itching, and congestion). The safety analysis did not show a significant difference in reported adverse events (AE) between the active and placebo treatment groups (OR = 1.03; 95% CI 0.87–1.22, p = 0.75). A very low heterogeneity between the studies was detected, so a fixed-effects model was used. The mean quality level of the included trials was medium. Specific information for a pediatric population may be assumed with a moderate quality of evidence from only 1 study and with a low quality of evidence, mainly due to indirectness, from the others.
Conclusions: This study has 5 major strengths: it represents the first attempt to evaluate the efficacy and safety of fexofenadine in the treatment of AR by means of a meta-analysis of RCTs; there was consistency between positive results in terms of efficacy in TSS and in individual symptoms; a large population was studied; there was an irrelevant interstudy heterogeneity, and the AE frequency was similar in both groups. All of these values encourage the recommendation of fexofenadine for AR. Further research focused on the benefits and disadvantages for a pediatric population is needed.