Objective: To assess the bronchodilator effect of inhaled albuterol in the acute stage of severe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection.
Design: Prospective, nonrandomized study of previously healthy infants who underwent intubation and whose lungs were ventilated because of respiratory failure caused by RSV infection. Ten infants with an endotracheal tube in place and without lung disease were matched for age and weight and served as normal control subjects.
Methods: Lung function tests, including respiratory mechanics by single-breath occlusion, small airway function by forced deflation, and lung volumes by nitrogen washout, were performed before and after inhalation of 900 micrograms albuterol by metered dose inhaler. Bronchodilator response was defined as a change of more than twice the coefficient of variation of repeated baseline measurements.
Results: Twenty-three infants (mean +/- SE age = 4.2 +/- 1.1 months) were studied, of whom 20 (87%) had obstructive small airway disease, and 3 (13%) had exclusively restrictive lung function profiles. Ten of the infants with obstructive disease (50%) did not benefit from albuterol, and 9 (45%) had small but significant improvements in lung function. Deterioration of lung function was documented in 1 patient after albuterol inhalation.
Conclusion: Inhaled albuterol is of limited value as a bronchodilator in infants with RSV-induced respiratory failure and should be discontinued if a beneficial response cannot be observed.