Corticosteroids for periorbital and orbital cellulitis

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2021 Apr 28;4(4):CD013535. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD013535.pub2.


Background: Periorbital and orbital cellulitis are infections of the tissue anterior and posterior to the orbital septum, respectively, and can be difficult to differentiate clinically. Periorbital cellulitis can also progress to become orbital cellulitis. Orbital cellulitis has a relatively high incidence in children and adults, and potentially serious consequences including vision loss, meningitis, and death. Complications occur in part due to inflammatory swelling from the infection creating a compartment syndrome within the bony orbit, leading to elevated ocular pressure and compression of vasculature and the optic nerve. Corticosteroids are used in other infections to reduce this inflammation and edema, but they can lead to immune suppression and worsening infection.

Objectives: To assess the effectiveness and safety of adjunctive corticosteroids for periorbital and orbital cellulitis, and to assess their effectiveness and safety in children and in adults separately.

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (which contains the Cochrane Eyes and Vision Trials Register) (2020, Issue 3); Ovid MEDLINE;; PubMed; Latin American and Caribbean Health Sciences Literature Database (LILACS);, and the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP). We did not use any date or language restrictions in the electronic search for trials. We last searched the electronic databases on 2 March 2020.

Selection criteria: We included studies of participants diagnosed with periorbital or orbital cellulitis. We excluded studies that focused exclusively on participants who were undergoing elective endoscopic surgery, including management of infections postsurgery as well as studies conducted solely on trauma patients. Randomized and quasi-randomized controlled trials were eligible for inclusion. Any study that administered corticosteroids was eligible regardless of type of steroid, route of administration, length of therapy, or timing of treatment. Comparators could include placebo, another corticosteroid, no treatment control, or another intervention.

Data collection and analysis: We used standard methodological procedures recommended by Cochrane.

Main results: The search yielded 7998 records, of which 13 were selected for full-text screening. We identified one trial for inclusion. No other eligible ongoing or completed trials were identified. The included study compared the use of corticosteroids in addition to antibiotics to the use of antibiotics alone for the treatment of orbital cellulitis. The study included a total of 21 participants aged 10 years and older, of which 14 participants were randomized to corticosteroids and antibiotics and 7 participants to antibiotics alone. Participants randomized to corticosteroids and antibiotics received adjunctive corticosteroids after initial antibiotic response (mean 5.13 days), at an initial dose of 1.5 mg/kg for three days followed by 1 mg/kg for another three days before being tapered over a one- to two-week period. We assessed the included study as having an unclear risk of bias for allocation concealment, masking (blinding), selective outcome reporting, and other sources of bias. Risk of bias from sequence generation and incomplete outcome data were low. The certainty of evidence for all outcomes was very low, downgraded for risk of bias (-1) and imprecision (-2). Length of hospital stay was compared between the group receiving antibiotics alone compared to the group receiving antibiotics and corticosteroids (mean difference (MD) 4.30, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.48 to 9.08; 21 participants). There was no observed difference in duration of antibiotics between treatment groups (MD 3.00, 95% CI -0.48 to 6.48; 21 participants). Likewise, preservation of visual acuity at 12 weeks of follow-up between group was also assessed (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.82 to 1.22; 21 participants). Pain scores were compared between groups on day 3 (MD -0.20, 95% CI -1.02 to 0.62; 22 eyes) along with the need for surgical intervention (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.11 to 9.23; 21 participants). Exposure keratopathy was reported in five participants who received corticosteroids and antibiotics and three participants who received antibiotic alone (RR 1.20, 95% CI 0.40 to 3.63; 21 participants). No major complications of orbital cellulitis were seen in either the intervention or the control group. No side effects of corticosteroids were reported, although it is unclear which side effects were assessed.

Authors' conclusions: There is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions about the use of corticosteroids in the treatment of periorbital and orbital cellulitis. Since there is significant variation in how corticosteroids are used in clinical practice, additional high-quality evidence from randomized controlled trials is needed to inform decision making. Future studies should explore the effects of corticosteroids in children and adults separately, and evaluate different dosing and timing of corticosteroid therapy.

Trial registration: NCT02087527.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / adverse effects
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Bias
  • Cellulitis / drug therapy*
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Orbital Cellulitis / drug therapy*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Visual Acuity


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents

Associated data