Objectives: This study aimed to assess the safety and efficacy of a high-dose continuous nebulized albuterol (CNA) protocol for treatment of asthma in the pediatric emergency department (ED). A secondary objective included a cost-benefit analysis of protocol use.
Methods: In this retrospective chart review, we compared cohorts of patients treated in our ED for acute asthma exacerbation before and after implementation of a CNA protocol. Patients between the ages of 2 and 21 years seen between March 1 and May 31, 2008 (preprotocol, n = 393), and March 1 to May 31, 2009 (postprotocol, n = 373), were included. Safety data included medication-related adverse effects as well as serum potassium and glucose levels. Efficacy data included ED length of stay, disposition, return visits, time to first albuterol treatment, and corticosteroid administration. Cost analysis included the cost of medications and respiratory therapy time.
Results: Postprotocol patients more often received CNA (57.9% vs 25.2%, P < 0.01). No significant adverse effects, including tachyarrhythmia and symptomatic hypokalemia, were found in either group. Serum potassium levels were higher in the postprotocol group (3.9 mEq/L [n = 34] vs 3.5 mEq/L [n = 28], P < 0.01). Emergency department stay was longer in the postprotocol group (217.8 minutes vs 187.2 minutes, P < 0.01). Emergency department disposition was similar in both groups. The mean cost per patient was higher in the postprotocol group ($327.21 vs $277.95, P < 0.01).
Conclusions: We found the CNA protocol to be safe. Superior efficacy to a traditional treatment approach was not demonstrated. The mean cost of treatment was higher in the postprotocol group. Further prospective studies should be conducted to confirm the findings of this retrospective, observational study.