Background: Anticholinergic medications such as ipratropium improve the pulmonary function of patients with acute exacerbations of asthma, but their effect on hospitalization rates is uncertain.
Methods: We conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 434 children (2 to 18 years old) who had acute exacerbations of moderate or severe asthma treated in the emergency department. All the children received a nebulized solution of albuterol (2.5 or 5 mg per dose, depending on body weight) every 20 minutes for three doses and then as needed. A corticosteroid (2 mg of prednisone or prednisolone per kilogram of body weight) was given orally with the second dose of albuterol. Children in the treatment group received 500 microg (2.5 ml) of ipratropium bromide with the second and third doses of albuterol; children in the control group received 2.5 ml of normal saline at these times.
Results: Overall, the rate of hospitalization was lower in the ipratropium group (59 of 215 children [27.4 percent]) than in the control group (80 of 219 [36.5 percent], P=0.05). For patients with moderate asthma (indicated by a peak expiratory flow rate of 50 to 70 percent of the predicted value or an asthma score of 8 to 11 on a 15-point scale), hospitalization rates were similar in the two groups (ipratropium: 8 of 79 children [10.1 percent]; control: 9 of 84 [10.7 percent]). For patients with severe asthma (defined as a peak expiratory flow rate of <50 percent of the predicted value or an asthma score of 12 to 15), the addition of ipratropium significantly reduced the need for hospitalization (51 of 136 children [37.5 percent], as compared with 71 of 135 [52.6 percent] in the control group; P=0.02).
Conclusions: Among children with a severe exacerbation of asthma, the addition of ipratropium bromide to albuterol and corticosteroid therapy significantly decreases the hospitalization rate.