Parent-initiated oral corticosteroid therapy for intermittent wheezing illnesses in children

Oral corticosteroids have been shown to be effective in the treatment of acute asthma in children if they are commenced after the child has been assessed by a doctor. This review identified two randomised trials of parent-initiated oral corticosteroids in the management of an intermittent wheezing illness in children. There was no evidence of more benefit than harm. Widespread use of this strategy cannot be recommended at present. Further randomised clinical trials are required.

Authors' conclusions: 

Limited current evidence is available and it is inconclusive regarding the benefit from parent-initiated OCS in the treatment of intermittent wheezing illnesses in children. Widespread use of this strategy cannot be recommended until the benefits and harms can be clarified further.

Read the full abstract...

Intermittent wheezing illnesses, which include viral associated wheeze and asthma, are amongst the most common reasons for children to present urgently to a doctor. Whether parents should commence oral corticosteroids (OCS) for an episode of acute wheeze in their child without waiting for a medical review is an important question, as the potential benefits of early oral corticosteroid intervention have to be weighed against the potential adverse effects of treatment.


The objectives were to assess the benefits and harmful effects of parent-initiated OCS, in the management of intermittent wheezing illnesses in children, based on the results of randomised clinical trials.

Search strategy: 

The Cochrane Airways Group Specialised Register, The Cochrane Controlled Trials Register (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, LILACS, Web of Science and Dissertation Abstracts were combined (all searched November 2008). Manufacturers and researchers in the field were also contacted.

Selection criteria: 

Only randomised clinical trials studying patients aged between one and eighteen years old, with an intermittent wheezing illness (asthma, viral wheeze, preschool viral wheeze) were included. Interventions encompassed OCS at any dose or duration versus placebo or other drug combination. The trials could be unpublished or published and no language limitations were applied.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two reviewers independently selected trials for inclusion, assessed trial quality and extracted the data. The statistical package (RevMan) provided by the Cochrane Collaboration was used.

Main results: 

From 572 original citations, a total of 2 randomised clinical trials (303 randomised participants) were included. The quality of the included trials was high; however, marked clinical heterogeneity precluded a meta-analysis. The two trials did not find evidence that parent-initiated OCS are associated with a benefit in terms of hospital admissions, unscheduled medical reviews, symptoms scores, bronchodilator use, parent and patient impressions, physician assessment, or days lost from work or school. Adverse outcomes were inadequately documented.