Inhaled versus systemic corticosteroids for preventing chronic lung disease in ventilated very low birth weight preterm neonates

Preterm babies who require breathing support often develop chronic lung disease. It is thought that inflammation in the lungs may be part of the cause. Corticosteroid drugs when given orally or through a vein reduces this inflammation, but the use of corticosteroids is associated with serious side effects. Corticosteroids use has been associated with cerebral palsy (motor problem) and developmental delay. It is possible that inhaling steroids, so that the drug directly reaches the lung, may reduce the adverse effects. The review looked at trials that compared preterm babies who received steroids by inhalation to those who received steroids systemically (through a vein or orally) while they were receiving breathing support. There was no evidence that inhaling steroids prevented chronic lung disease or the number of days the baby needed breathing support and additional oxygen.

Authors' conclusions: 

This review found no evidence that early inhaled steroids confer important advantages over systemic steroids in the management of ventilator dependent preterm infants. Neither inhaled steroids nor systemic steroids can be recommended as a part of standard practice for ventilated preterm infants. Because they might have fewer adverse effects than systemic steroids, further randomised controlled trials of inhaled steroids are needed that address risk/benefit ratio of different delivery techniques, dosing schedules and long-term effects, with particular attention to neurodevelopmental outcome.

Read the full abstract...

Chronic lung disease (CLD) remains an important cause of mortality and morbidity in preterm infants and inflammation plays an important role in its pathogenesis. The use of inhaled corticosteroids may modulate the inflammatory process without concomitant high systemic steroid concentrations and less risk of adverse effects.


To determine the effect of inhaled versus systemic corticosteroids started within the first two weeks of life on preventing CLD in ventilated very low birth weight (VLBW) infants.

Search strategy: 

Randomised and quasi-randomised trials were identified by searching The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE , EMBASE , CINAHL, reference lists of published trials and abstracts published in Pediatric Research or electronically on the Pediatric Academic Societies web site in June 2007.This search was updated in June 2011 and included additional searches of, and Web of Science.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised or quasi-randomised clinical trials comparing inhaled versus systemic corticosteroid therapy (regardless of the dose and duration of therapy) started in the first two weeks of life in VLBW infants receiving assisted ventilation.

Data collection and analysis: 

Outcomes including CLD at 28 days or 36 weeks postmenstrual age (PMA), mortality, the combined outcome of death or CLD at 28 days or 36 weeks PMA, other pulmonary outcomes and adverse effects were evaluated. All data were analysed using RevMan 5.1. Meta-analyses were performed using relative risk (RR), risk difference (RD), and mean difference (MD) with their 95% confidence intervals (CI). If RD was significant, the numbers needed to benefit (NNTB) or to harm (NNTH) were calculated.

Main results: 

No new trials were identified in this update. Two trials qualified for inclusion in this review. The incidence of CLD at 36 weeks PMA was increased (of borderline statistical significance) in the inhaled steroid group [RR 1.45 (95% CI 0.99 to 2.11); RD 0.11 (95% CI 0.00 to 0.21), p = 0.05, one trial, n = 278]. The incidence of CLD at 36 weeks PMA among all survivors [RR 1.34 (95% CI 0.94 to 1.90); RD 0.11 (95% CI -0.02 to 0.24), one trial, n = 206], oxygen dependency at 28 days (two trials, n = 294), death by 28 days (two trials, n = 294) or 36 weeks PMA (two trials, n = 294) and the combined outcome of death or CLD by 28 days (two trials, n = 294) or 36 weeks PMA (one trial, n = 278) did not differ significantly between the groups. The duration of mechanical ventilation was significantly longer in the inhaled steroid group as compared to the systemic steroid group [typical MD 4 days (95% CI 0.2 to 8); two trials, n = 294] as was the duration of supplemental oxygen [typical MD 11 days (95% CI 2 to 20); two trials, n = 294].

The incidence of hyperglycaemia was significantly lower in the group receiving inhaled steroids [RR 0.52 (95% CI 0.39 to 0.71); RD -0.25 (95% CI -0.37 to -0.14); one trial, n = 278; NNTB 4 (95% CI 3 to 7) to avoid one infant experiencing hyperglycaemia]. The rate of patent ductus arteriosus was increased in the group receiving inhaled steroids [RR 1.64 (95% CI 1.23 to 2.17); RD 0.21 (95% CI 0.10 to 0.33); one trial, n = 278; NNTH 5 (95% CI 3 to 10)]. No information was available on long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes.