Bronchodilators for the prevention and treatment of chronic lung disease in preterm infants

Review question: What are the effects of bronchodilators on mortality and other complications of preterm birth in infants at risk for or having chronic lung disease (CLD)?

Background: Chronic lung disease is common in babies born before 34 weeks' gestation. Bronchodilators are drugs that cause widening of the air passages in the lungs. They have been used for chronic lung disease because of their potential effect of dilating small airways in babies born preterm. Bronchodilators can be inhaled, taken by mouth (a puffer) or injection or received through a nebuliser with a pressurised aerosol.

Study characteristics: We included randomised and quasi-randomised trials. We included in the analyses two studies that reported on 225 infants.

Study funding resources: We did not identify funding by industry for any trials.

Key results: This review of trials found too little evidence to show positive or negative effects of bronchodilators for prevention of chronic lung disease. More research is needed. We found no trials that studied the use of bronchodilator therapy for treatment of CLD.

Quality of evidence: The quality of the evidence was moderate for one included trial and low for the other.

Authors' conclusions: 

Data are insufficient for reliable assessment of the use of salbutamol for prevention of CLD. One trial of poor quality reported a reduction in the incidence of CLD and shorter duration of supplementary oxygen with prophylactic aminophylline, but these results must be interpreted with caution. Additional clinical trials are necessary to assess the role of bronchodilator agents in prophylaxis or treatment of CLD. Researchers studying the effects of bronchodilators in preterm infants should include relevant clinical outcomes in addition to pulmonary mechanical outcomes. We identified no trials that studied the use of bronchodilator therapy for treatment of CLD.

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Background: 

Chronic lung disease (CLD) occurs frequently in preterm infants. Bronchodilators have the potential effect of dilating small airways with muscle hypertrophy. Increased compliance and tidal volume and decreased pulmonary resistance have been documented with the use of bronchodilators in infants with CLD. Therefore, bronchodilators might have a role in the prevention and treatment of CLD.

Objectives: 

To determine the effect of bronchodilators given as prophylaxis or as treatment for CLD on mortality and other complications of preterm birth in infants at risk for or identified as having CLD.

Search strategy: 

On 2016 March 7, we used the standard strategy of the Cochrane Neonatal Review Group to search the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; 2016, Issue 2), MEDLINE (from 1966), Embase (from 1980) and the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL; from 1982). We searched clinical trials databases, conference proceedings and the reference lists of retrieved articles for randomised controlled trials and quasi-randomised trials. We applied no language restrictions.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials involving preterm infants were eligible for inclusion. Initiation of bronchodilator therapy for prevention of CLD had to occur within two weeks of birth. Treatment of patients with CLD had to be initiated before discharge from the neonatal unit. The intervention had to include administration of a bronchodilator by nebulisation, by metered dose inhaler (with or without a spacer device) or by intravenous or oral administration versus placebo or no intervention. Eligible studies had to include at least one of the following predefined clinical outcomes: mortality, CLD, number of days on oxygen, number of days on ventilator, patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), pulmonary interstitial emphysema (PIE), pneumothorax, intraventricular haemorrhage (IVH) of any grade, necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), sepsis and adverse effects of bronchodilators.

Data collection and analysis: 

We used the standard method described in the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions (Higgins 2011). Two review authors extracted and assessed all data provided by each study. We reported risk ratio (RR), risk difference (RD) and number needed to treat for an additional beneficial outcome (NNTB) with 95% confidence interval (CI) for dichotomous outcomes and mean difference (MD) for continuous data. We assessed the quality of the evidence by using the GRADE approach.

Main results: 

For this update, we identified one new randomised controlled trial investigating effects of bronchodilators in preterm infants. This study, which enrolled 73 infants but reported on 52 infants, examined prevention of CLD with the use of aminophylline. According to GRADE, the quality of the evidence was very low. One previously included study enrolled 173 infants to look at prevention of CLD with the use of salbutamol. According to GRADE, the quality of the evidence was moderate. We found no eligible trial that studied the use of bronchodilator therapy for treatment of individuals with CLD. Prophylaxis with salbutamol led to no statistically significant differences in mortality (RR 1.08, 95% CI 0.50 to 2.31; RD 0.01, 95% CI -0.09 to 0.11) nor in CLD (RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.78 to 1.37; RD 0.02, 95% CI -0.13 to 0.17). Results showed no statistically significant differences in other complications associated with CLD nor in preterm birth. Investigators in this study did not comment on side effects due to salbutamol. Prophylaxis with aminophylline led to a significant reduction in CLD at 28 days of life (RR 0.18, 95% CI 0.04 to 0.74; RD -0.35, 95% CI -0.56 to -0.13; NNTB 3, 95% CI 2 to 8) and no significant difference in mortality (RR 3.0, 95% CI 0.33 to 26.99; RD 0.08, 95% CI -0.07 to 0.22), along with a significantly shorter dependency on supplementary oxygen in the aminophylline group compared with the no treatment group (MD -17.75 days, 95% CI -27.56 to -7.94). Tests for heterogeneity were not applicable for any of the analyses, as each meta-analysis included only one study.

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