Vincent Gajdos and colleagues report results of a randomized trial conducted among hospitalized infants with bronchiolitis. They show that a physiotherapy technique (increased exhalation and assisted cough) commonly used in France does not reduce time to recovery in this population.
Acute bronchiolitis treatment in children and infants is largely supportive, but chest physiotherapy is routinely performed in some countries. In France, national guidelines recommend a specific type of physiotherapy combining the increased exhalation technique (IET) and assisted cough (AC). Our objective was to evaluate the efficacy of chest physiotherapy (IET + AC) in previously healthy infants hospitalized for a first episode of acute bronchiolitis.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a multicenter, randomized, outcome assessor-blind and parent-blind trial in seven French pediatric departments. We recruited 496 infants hospitalized for first-episode acute bronchiolitis between October 2004 and January 2008. Patients were randomly allocated to receive from physiotherapists three times a day, either IET + AC (intervention group, n = 246) or nasal suction (NS, control group, n = 250). Only physiotherapists were aware of the allocation group of the infant. The primary outcome was time to recovery, defined as 8 hours without oxygen supplementation associated with minimal or no chest recession, and ingesting more than two-thirds of daily food requirements. Secondary outcomes were intensive care unit admissions, artificial ventilation, antibiotic treatment, description of side effects during procedures, and parental perception of comfort. Statistical analysis was performed on an intent-to-treat basis. Median time to recovery was 2.31 days, (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.97–2.73) for the control group and 2.02 days (95% CI 1.96–2.34) for the intervention group, indicating no significant effect of physiotherapy (hazard ratio [HR] = 1.09, 95% CI 0.91–1.31, p = 0.33). No treatment by age interaction was found (p = 0.97). Frequency of vomiting and transient respiratory destabilization was higher in the IET + AC group during the procedure (relative risk [RR] = 10.2, 95% CI 1.3–78.8, p = 0.005 and RR = 5.4, 95% CI 1.6–18.4, p = 0.002, respectively). No difference between groups in bradycardia with or without desaturation (RR = 1.0, 95% CI 0.2–5.0, p = 1.00 and RR = 3.6, 95% CI 0.7–16.9, p = 0.10, respectively) was found during the procedure. Parents reported that the procedure was more arduous in the group treated with IET (mean difference = 0.88, 95% CI 0.33–1.44, p = 0.002), whereas there was no difference regarding the assessment of the child's comfort between both groups (mean difference = −0.07, 95% CI −0.53 to 0.38, p = 0.40). No evidence of differences between groups in intensive care admission (RR = 0.7, 95% CI 0.3–1.8, p = 0.62), ventilatory support (RR = 2.5, 95% CI 0.5–13.0, p = 0.29), and antibiotic treatment (RR = 1.0, 95% CI 0.7–1.3, p = 1.00) was observed.
IET + AC had no significant effect on time to recovery in this group of hospitalized infants with bronchiolitis. Additional studies are required to explore the effect of chest physiotherapy on ambulatory populations and for infants without a history of atopy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Bronchiolitis, which is usually caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), is the commonest infection of the lower respiratory tract (the lungs and the passages through which air enters the lungs) in infants. A third of all children have bronchiolitis during their first year of life. The illness begins with stuffiness, a runny nose, a mild cough, and mild fever. Then, as the smallest airways in the lung (the bronchioles) become inflamed (swell) and blocked with mucus, the cough worsens, and the infant may develop a wheeze, shallow breathing, and a rapid heartbeat. Most cases of bronchiolitis are mild and clear up within two weeks without any treatment but some infants develop severe disease. Such infants struggle to get enough air into their lungs, drawing in their chest with each breath (chest recession). They have trouble eating and drinking, and the oxygen level in their blood can drop dangerously low. About 1% of previously healthy infants need hospitalization because of severe bronchiolitis. These severely affected infants are not normally given any medications but, where necessary, they are given oxygen therapy, fed through a tube into their stomach, and given fluids through a vein.
Why Was This Study Done?
In some countries, chest physiotherapy is routinely given to infants with bronchiolitis even though this is not a recommended treatment internationally. In France, for example, virtually all outpatients with bronchiolitis receive a form of chest physiotherapy known as increased exhalation technique with assisted cough (IET + AC). IET—manual chest compression—is designed to clear mucus from the bronchioles whereas AC—coughing triggered by applying pressure to the top of the breastbone—facilitates clearance of the large airways. But is IET + AC an effective treatment for bronchiolitis? In this study, the researchers undertook a multicenter, randomized, controlled trial to answer this question. A randomized trial is a study in which patients are randomly allocated to receive either the treatment under study or a control treatment. Usually in such trials, noone is aware of the treatment allocations until the trial has been completed. This is called blinding and avoids unconscious biases being introduced into the results. In this trial, although the parents, caregivers, and outcome assessors were blinded, the physiotherapists and the infants were aware of treatment allocations. The physiotherapists were not involved in patient assessment, however, and the infants were sufficiently young that their knowledge of their treatment was unlikely to bias the results.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled nearly 500 children aged 15 days to 2 years who were admitted to seven French hospitals for a first episode of acute bronchiolitis. They randomly allocated the patients to receive IET + AC (intervention group) or nasal suction (control group) three times a day from a physiotherapist working alone in a room with blacked-out windows. The primary outcome of the trial was the patients' time to recovery. Infants were judged to have recovered if they had not had oxygen therapy or showed signs of chest recession for 8 hours and had ingested more than two-thirds of their daily food requirement. Infants in the control group took an average of 2.31 days to recover whereas those in the intervention group took 2.02 days. However, this difference in recovery time was not statistically significant. That is, it could have happened by chance. The researchers also recorded several secondary outcomes such as admission to an intensive care unit, help with breathing, antibiotic treatment, and parental perceptions of their child's comfort. There were no significant differences between the two treatment groups for any of these secondary outcomes, although the parents did report that the IET + AC treatment was harder on their children than nasal suction while not reducing their overall comfort.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that IET + AC had no significant effect on the time to recovery of a large population of French infants admitted to hospital with severe bronchiolitis. These results cannot be extrapolated, however, to infants with mild or moderate bronchiolitis, and further studies are needed to assess whether chest physiotherapy is of any benefit in an outpatient setting. Three small trials of a different form of chest physiotherapy have also previously failed to find any effect of chest physiotherapy on recovery time. Thus, none of the currently available results support the routine use of chest physiotherapy in infants admitted to a hospital for severe bronchiolitis.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000345
The UK National Health Service Choices Web site provides detailed information on all aspects of bronchiolitis
Kidshealth, a resource maintained by the Nemours Foundation (a not-for-profit organization for children's health) provides information for parents on bronchiolitis schizophrenia and on respiratory syncytial virus (in English and Spanish)
The British Lung Foundation also provides information on bronchiolitis schizophrenia and on respiratory syncytial virus
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia has a page on bronchiolitis schizophrenia (in English and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detailed information on respiratory syncytial virus