Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for acute bronchiolitis in children

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019 Jan 31;1(1):CD010473. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD010473.pub3.


Background: Acute bronchiolitis is one of the most frequent causes of emergency department visits and hospitalisation in children. There is no specific treatment for bronchiolitis except for supportive treatment, which includes ensuring adequate hydration and oxygen supplementation. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) aims to widen the lungs' peripheral airways, enabling deflation of overdistended lungs in bronchiolitis. Increased airway pressure also prevents the collapse of poorly supported peripheral small airways during expiration. Observational studies report that CPAP is beneficial for children with acute bronchiolitis. This is an update of a review first published in 2015.

Objectives: To assess the efficacy and safety of CPAP compared to no CPAP or sham CPAP in infants and children up to three years of age with acute bronchiolitis.

Search methods: We conducted searches of CENTRAL (2017, Issue 12), which includes the Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group's Specialised Register, MEDLINE (1946 to December, 2017), Embase (1974 to December 2017), CINAHL (1981 to December 2017), and LILACS (1982 to December 2017) in January 2018.

Selection criteria: We considered randomised controlled trials (RCTs), quasi-RCTs, cross-over RCTs, and cluster-RCTs evaluating the effect of CPAP in children with acute bronchiolitis.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently assessed study eligibility, extracted data using a structured pro forma, analysed data, and performed meta-analyses.

Main results: We included three studies with a total of 122 children (62/60 in intervention/control arms) aged up to 12 months that investigated nasal CPAP compared with supportive (or "standard") therapy. We included one new trial (72 children) that contributed data to the assessment of respiratory rate and need for mechanical ventilation for this update. The included studies were single-centre trials conducted in France, the UK, and India. Two studies were parallel-group RCTs and one was a cross-over RCT. The evidence provided by the included studies was low quality; we assessed high risk of bias for blinding, incomplete outcome data, and selective reporting, and confidence intervals were wide.The effect of CPAP on the need for mechanical ventilation in children with acute bronchiolitis was uncertain due to imprecision around the effect estimate (3 RCTs, 122 children; risk ratio (RR) 0.69, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.14 to 3.36; low-quality evidence). None of the trials measured time to recovery. Limited, low-quality evidence indicated that CPAP decreased respiratory rate (2 RCTs, 91 children; mean difference (MD) -3.81, 95% CI -5.78 to -1.84). Only one trial measured change in arterial oxygen saturation, and the results were imprecise (19 children; MD -1.70%, 95% CI -3.76 to 0.36). The effect of CPAP on change in arterial partial carbon dioxide pressure (pCO₂) was imprecise (2 RCTs, 50 children; MD -2.62 mmHg, 95% CI -5.29 to 0.05; low-quality evidence). Duration of hospital stay was similar in both CPAP and supportive care groups (2 RCTs, 50 children; MD 0.07 days, 95% CI -0.36 to 0.50; low-quality evidence). Two studies did not report about pneumothorax, but pneumothorax did not occur in one study. No studies reported occurrences of deaths. Several outcomes (change in partial oxygen pressure, hospital admission rate (from emergency department to hospital), duration of emergency department stay, and need for intensive care unit admission) were not reported in the included studies.

Authors' conclusions: Limited, low-quality evidence suggests that breathing improved (a decreased respiratory rate) in children with bronchiolitis who received CPAP; this finding is unchanged from the 2015 review. Further evidence for this outcome was provided by the inclusion of a low-quality study for the 2018 update. Due to the limited available evidence, the effect of CPAP in children with acute bronchiolitis is uncertain for other outcomes. Larger, adequately powered trials are needed to evaluate the effect of CPAP for children with acute bronchiolitis.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Bronchiolitis / blood
  • Bronchiolitis / therapy*
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure / methods*
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Length of Stay
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Partial Pressure
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Respiration, Artificial / statistics & numerical data
  • Respiratory Rate
  • Selection Bias


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Oxygen