Getting Babies Home Sooner After Lung Infections

Dexamethasone for bronchiolitis in babies shortened time spent in hospital

September 15, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

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(dailyRx News) The sooner a baby can recover from a lung infection, the better the child will likely be in the long-term. This may be especially true if the child is at risk for asthma.

A recent study found that giving young babies a certain medication when they had bronchiolitis reduced the time it took for them to be discharged.

Bronchiolitis is a lung infection with swelling and mucus buildup in the smallest air passages in the lungs, most often caused by a virus.

The medication was dexamethasone, a corticosteroid medication used to treat inflammation, among other medical concerns.

"Ask the doctor to explain your child's treatment plan."

The study, led by Khalid Alansari, MD, of the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Hamad Medical Corporation in Doha, Qatar, aimed to find out whether the use of dexamethasone could improve recovery of children with bronchiolitis.

The researchers split 200 babies diagnosed with bronchiolitis into two groups. The babies were an average age of 3.5 months and had all been healthy before getting sick with bronchiolitis.

All the babies were also at risk for developing asthma, based on either having eczema (a skin allergy) or an immediate family member with asthma.

One group of 100 babies received 1 mg/kg of dexamethasone on the first day, followed by 0.6 mg/kg per day for four additional days. The other group was given a placebo, or a fake medicine.

In addition, all the patients were given an inhaled dose of salbutamol (named albuterol in US) — a medication that enlarges the air passageways and is used to treat asthma, bronchitis and similar lung issues.

Overall, the average time it took until the babies who received dexamethasone could be discharged was 18.6 hours.

Meanwhile, among 90 of the babies who received the placebo treatment instead of dexamethasone, it took an average 27.1 hours until they could be discharged.

In addition, five of the babies who had received the placebo needed to be admitted to the intensive care unit for further treatment.

These findings meant that children who received dexamethasone were discharged a typical 31 percent sooner than those who did not receive the medication.

After discharge, 22 of the babies who received dexamethasone and 19 of the babies who received the placebo had to be readmitted.

Meanwhile, during a week of watching the babies, no other hospitalizations or side effects were reported.

The researchers concluded that giving the babies dexamethasone shortened the time needed before the children were ready to be discharged.

At the same time, re-admissions and clinic visits afterward did not vary much between the two groups.

The study was published September 16 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the Hamad Medical Corporation. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 14, 2013
Last Updated:
September 16, 2013