Nebulized hypertonic saline for bronchiolitis in the emergency department: a randomized clinical trial

JAMA Pediatr. 2014 Jul;168(7):664-70. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.5306.


Importance: Acute bronchiolitis is the most frequent lower respiratory tract infection in infants, yet there are no effective therapies available. Current evidence is unclear about the role of hypertonic saline (HS) for the acute treatment of bronchiolitis.

Objective: To determine whether nebulized 3% HS compared with normal saline (NS) improves respiratory distress in infants with bronchiolitis not responding to standard treatments in the emergency department.

Design, setting, and participants: A randomized clinical trial with blinding of investigators, health care providers, and parents was conducted at a single urban pediatric ED. The participants included children aged 2 to less than 24 months with their first episode of bronchiolitis and a Respiratory Distress Assessment Instrument score of 4 to 15 after nasal suctioning and a trial of nebulized albuterol.

Interventions: Patients were randomized to receive either nebulized 3% HS (HS group) or NS (NS group).

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was change in respiratory distress at 1 hour after the intervention, as measured by the Respiratory Assessment Change Score (a decrease indicates improvement). Secondary outcomes included vital signs, oxygen saturation, hospitalization, physician clinical impression, parental assessment, and adverse events.

Results: The 31 patients enrolled in each treatment arm had similar baseline demographic and clinical characteristics. At 1 hour after the intervention, the HS group demonstrated significantly less improvement in the median Respiratory Assessment Change Score compared with the NS group (HS, -1 [interquartile range, -5 to 1] vs. NS, -5 [interquartile range, -6 to -2]; P = .01). There were no significant differences in heart rate, oxygen saturation, hospitalization rate, or other outcomes. There were no adverse events.

Conclusions and relevance: Infants with bronchiolitis and persistent respiratory distress after standard treatment in the emergency department had less improvement after receiving 3% HS compared with those who received NS. Based on these results and the existing evidence, administration of a single dose of 3% HS does not appear to be indicated to treat bronchiolitis in the acute care setting.

Trial registration: Identifier: NCT01247064.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Albuterol / adverse effects
  • Bronchiolitis / drug therapy*
  • Bronchodilator Agents / adverse effects
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Nebulizers and Vaporizers
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic / administration & dosage*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Urban Health


  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic
  • Albuterol

Associated data