Efficacy of oral corticosteroids in the treatment of acute wheezing episodes in asthmatic preschoolers: Systematic review with meta-analysis

Pediatr Pulmonol. 2016 Aug;51(8):868-76. doi: 10.1002/ppul.23429. Epub 2016 Apr 13.


Rationale: Systemic corticosteroids (SCS) are used for treat preschoolers with acute asthma or wheezing exacerbations, with conflicting results.

Objective: To evaluate the effectiveness of oral corticosteroids (OCS) compared to placebo in preschoolers presenting with acute asthma/wheezing exacerbations.

Methods: Five electronic databases were searched for all placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trials of OCS in children <6 years of age presenting with recurrent wheezing/asthma exacerbations of any severity. Primary outcomes were hospitalizations, unscheduled emergency department (ED) visits in following month, need of additional OCS courses, and length of stay (ED or hospital).

Results: Eleven studies met inclusion criteria (n = 1,733); four were conducted on an outpatient basis, five in inpatients, and two in the ED. Significant heterogeneity was found when pooling all studies, and thus analysis was stratified by trial setting. Among the outpatient studies, children who received OCS had a higher hospitalization rate (RR: 2.15 [95%CI = 1.08-4.29], I(2) = 0%) compared to those to received placebo. Among the ED studies, children who received OCS had a lower risk of hospitalization (RR: 0.58 [0.37-0.92], I(2) = 0%). Among the inpatient studies, children who received OCS needed fewer additional OCS courses than those on placebo (RR: 0.57 [0.40-0.81], I(2) = 0%).

Conclusions: Treatment with OCS in the ED or hospital may be beneficial in toddlers and preschoolers with frequent asthma/wheezing exacerbations. However, more studies are needed before OCS can be broadly recommended for this age group. Future trials should be carefully designed to avoid bias and according to our findings regarding administration setting. Pediatr Pulmonol. 2016;51:868-876. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: asthma exacerbation; oral steroids; treatment; young children.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Administration, Oral
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Respiratory Sounds / drug effects*


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents