Asthma is more common in children with a personal or family history of atopy, increased severity and frequency of wheezing episodes, and presence of variable airway obstruction or bronchial hyperresponsiveness. Precipitating factors for symptoms and acute episodes include infection, house dust mites, allergens from pet animals, exposure to tobacco smoke, and anxiety.
Methods and outcomes
We conducted a systematic review and aimed to answer the following clinical questions: What are the effects of treatments for acute asthma in children? What are the effects of single-agent prophylaxis in children taking as-needed inhaled beta agonists for asthma? What are the effects of additional prophylactic treatments in childhood asthma inadequately controlled by standard-dose inhaled corticosteroids? What are the effects of treatments and of prophylactic treatments for acute wheezing in infants? We searched: Medline, Embase, The Cochrane Library and other important databases up to October 2005 (BMJ Clinical Evidence reviews are updated periodically, please check our website for the most up-to-date version of this review). We included harms alerts from relevant organisations such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
We found 84 systematic reviews, RCTs, or observational studies that met our inclusion criteria. We performed a GRADE evaluation of the quality of evidence for interventions.
In this systematic review we present information relating to the effectiveness and safety of the following interventions: beta2 agonists (high-dose nebulised, long-acting [inhaled salmeterol], short-acting [oral salbutamol or by nebuliser, or metered-dose inhaler/spacer versus nebuliser]), corticosteroids (oral prednisolone, systemic, inhaled higher or lower doses [beclometasone]), ipratropium bromide (single or multiple dose inhaled), leukotriene receptor antagonists (oral montelukast), nedocromil (inhaled), oxygen, sodium cromoglycate (inhaled), or theophylline (oral or intravenous).
Childhood asthma can be difficult to distinguish from viral wheeze and can affect up to 20% of children.
The consensus is that oxygen, high dose nebulised beta2 agonists and systemic corticosteroids should be used to treat an acute asthma attack.
High dose beta2 agonists may be equally effective when given intermittently or continuously via a nebuliser, or from a metered dose inhaler using a spacer, in children with an acute asthma attack.Admission to hospital may be averted by adding ipratropium bromide to beta2 agonists, or by using high dose nebulised or oral corticosteroids.
Prophylactic inhaled corticosteroids improve symptoms and lung function in children with asthma. Their effect on final adult height is unclear.
Inhaled nedocromil, inhaled long acting beta2 agonists, oral theophylline and oral leukotriene receptor antagonists are less effective than corticosteroids.Inhaled sodium cromoglycate does not seem to improve symptoms.
CAUTION: Monotherapy with long acting beta2 agonists reduces the frequency of asthma episodes, but may increase the chance of severe asthma episodes and death when those episodes occur.
Intravenous theophylline may improve lung function in children with severe asthma, but can cause cardiac arrhythmias and convulsions.
We don't know whether adding higher doses of corticosteroids, long acting beta2 agonists, oral leukotriene receptor antagonists or oral theophylline to standard treatment improves symptoms or lung function in children with uncontrolled asthma.
In infants with acute wheeze, short acting beta2 agonists via a nebuliser or a spacer may improve symptoms, but we don't know whether high dose inhaled or oral corticosteroids or inhaled ipratropium bromide are beneficial.
Oral short acting beta2 agonists and inhaled high dose corticosteroids may prevent or improve wheeze in infants but can cause adverse effects.
We don't know whether lower dose inhaled or oral corticosteroids, inhaled ipratropium bromide or inhaled short acting beta2 agonists improve wheezing episodes in infants.