Objective: To determine the clinical benefit of oral dexamethasone in children admitted to the hospital with bronchiolitis treated with nebulized salbutamol.
Methods: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in the inpatient wards of a pediatric tertiary care hospital. The participants, children aged 6 weeks to 15 months, admitted with first-time wheezing, were eligible if their oxygen saturation was less than 95% on admission to the hospital and their Respiratory Distress Assessment Instrument (RDAI) score was greater than 6. Patients were excluded if they had any one of the following: an underlying disease that might affect cardiopulmonary status, asthma, recent treatment with steroids (within 2 weeks), or any history of adverse reaction to steroids. Patients were randomly assigned to receive either orally administered dexamethasone with 0.5 mg/kg as the first dose and 0.3 mg/kg for the next 2 mornings, or an equal volume of an orally administered placebo with an identical appearance. All patients received nebulized salbutamol at 0.15 mg/kg every 4 hours for the first 24 hours. The primary outcome measure was the change from baseline in the RDAI score at 24 hours. Secondary outcome measures were oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, RDAI measurement twice daily for the first 4 days, and the length of hospitalization.
Results: At 24 hours the mean change (SD) from baseline in the RDAI score was 1.6 (2.3) in the placebo group (n = 28) and 1.4 (2.0) in the dexamethasone group (n = 33; p = 0.74). There were no significant differences between the two groups in change in oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, and RDAI score at any assessment period. The median length of stay (95% confidence interval) for the placebo group was 48 (42, 54) hours compared with 57 (38, 76) hours in the dexamethasone group (p = 0.19).
Conclusions: Oral dexamethasone therapy does not affect the clinical course of children hospitalized with bronchiolitis and therefore cannot be recommended in this clinical situation.