Corticosteroids, delivered systemically and by inhalation, are widely used for the treatment of multiple acute respiratory illnesses in children. However, the level of evidence to support the utility of this therapy varies between these different acute respiratory illnesses.
To summarize the evidence regarding the utility of corticosteroids in the management of common acute pediatric respiratory conditions and to highlights the controversies regarding their use.
Literature search of manuscripts describing the evidence regarding the efficacy of corticosteroids (systemic and inhaled) in the management of: acute asthma exacerbation among school age children, acute episodic wheeze among preschool children, viral croup, and acute viral bronchiolitis.
Current evidence indicates that systemic corticosteroids provide benefits for the treatment of acute asthma exacerbations in school age children, mainly in the acute care setting. In addition, high dose inhaled corticosteroid therapy administered in the Emergency Department appears to have comparable effect for the prevention of asthma-related hospital admission as systemic corticosteroids in this age group. In contrast, most available studies have not shown benefit for systemic corticosteroids during acute wheezing episodes in preschool children. Systemic corticosteroids decrease symptoms and the rate of hospital admissions in patients with severe croup; however, corticosteroids have no role in the treatment of acute bronchiolitis and their use in this condition should be discouraged.
Corticosteroids treatment response varies between the acute respiratory illnesses presented in this review. Future research should aim to fill the current gaps-of-knowledge regarding the utility this intervention such as the identification of specific wheezing phenotypes among preschool children which might benefit from systemic corticosteroids as a treatment for acute viral wheeze.