The use of steroids in babies to manage rapid breathing (transient tachypnoea of the newborn)

Review question

Does giving steroids to babies with abnormally rapid breathing (also called transient tachypnoea of the newborn) improve lung function and reduce the need for breathing support?


Transient tachypnoea of the newborn is characterized by a high respiratory rate (more than 60 breaths per minute) and signs of respiratory distress (difficulty in breathing). It typically appears within the first two hours of life in babies born at or after 34 weeks' gestational age. Although transient tachypnoea of the newborn usually improves without treatment, it might be associated with wheezing in late childhood. The idea behind using steroids for transient tachypnoea of the newborn is based on studies showing that steroids can reduce fluid from small cavities within the lungs called the alveoli. In this Cochrane Review, we reported and critically analyzed the available evidence on the benefit and harms of steroids in the management of transient tachypnoea of the newborn.

Study characteristics

We identified and included one study, which compared steroids with placebo (dummy pill) in 49 newborns. The steroids were given to babies by inhalation. We found no ongoing studies. The evidence is up to date as of February 2019.


Steroids did not improve lung function or reduce the need for breathing support. Overall, we are uncertain as to whether steroids have an important effect on rapid breathing because the results are imprecise and based on only one small study.

Authors' conclusions: 

Given the paucity and very low quality of the available evidence, we are unable to determine the benefits and harms of postnatal administration of either inhaled or systemic corticosteroids for the management of TTN.

Read the full abstract...

Transient tachypnoea of the newborn (TTN) is characterized by tachypnoea and signs of respiratory distress. Transient tachypnoea typically appears within the first two hours of life in term and late preterm newborns. The administration of corticosteroids might compensate for the impaired hormonal changes which occur when infants are delivered late preterm, or at term but before the onset of spontaneous labour (elective caesarean section). Corticosteroids might improve the clearance of liquid from the lungs, thus reducing the effort required to breathe and improving respiratory distress.


The objective of this review is to assess whether postnatal corticosteroids — compared to placebo, no treatment or any other drugs administered to treat TTN — are effective and safe in the treatment of TTN in infants born at 34 weeks' gestational age or more.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; 2019, Issue 2), MEDLINE (1996 to 19 February 2019), Embase (1980 to 19 February 2019) and CINAHL (1982 to 19 February 2019). We applied no language restrictions. We searched clinical trial registries for ongoing studies.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomized controlled trials, quasi-randomized controlled trials and cluster-randomized trials comparing postnatal corticosteroids versus placebo or no treatment or any other drugs administered to infants born at 34 weeks' gestational age or more and less than three days of age with TTN.

Data collection and analysis: 

For each of the included trials, two review authors independently extracted data (e.g. number of participants, birth weight, gestational age, duration of oxygen therapy, need for continuous positive airway pressure, need for mechanical ventilation, duration of mechanical ventilation, etc.) and assessed the risk of bias (e.g. adequacy of randomization and blinding, completeness of follow-up). The primary outcomes considered in this review were need for nasal continuous positive airway pressure and need for mechanical ventilation. We used the GRADE approach to assess the certainty of the evidence.

Main results: 

One trial, which included 49 infants, met the inclusion criteria. The trial compared the use of inhaled corticosteroids (budesonide) with placebo. We found no differences between groups in terms of need for nasal continuous positive airway pressure (risk ratio (RR) 1.27, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.65 to 2.51; 1 study, 49 participants) and need for mechanical ventilation (RR 0.52, 95% CI 0.05 to 5.38; 1 study, 49 participants). The type of mechanical ventilation used in the included study was high-frequency oscillation. Tests for heterogeneity were not applicable for any of the analyses as only one study was included. Out of the secondary outcomes we deemed to be of greatest importance to patients, the study only reported on duration of hospital stay, which was no different between groups. The quality of the evidence is very low, due to the imprecision of the estimates and indirectness. We identified no ongoing trials.