Systemic corticosteroid therapy is an established adjunct to beta-adrenergic medications in acute exacerbations of asthma. To date, no study has defined the role of long-acting intramuscular preparations of corticosteroids in pediatric patients with asthma. A pilot study was conducted to prospectively compare symptomatic improvement following a single injection of intramuscular dexamethasone (IMD) to a 3-day regimen of oral prednisone (OP) for children with mild to moderate wheezing episodes that are responsive to nebulized medications in the Pediatric Emergency Department (PED). The following children presenting with acute exacerbations of asthma to the PED were eligible for enrollment: age 3-16 years; more than two prior wheezing episodes; mild to moderate wheezing; and oxygen saturation 95% or more in room air. The study patients were randomly assigned to receive either IMD (n = 21) or OP (n = 21) in addition to a standardized treatment regimen of nebulized albuterol. All of the children were clinically rated for wheezing severity by the Pulmonary Index (PI) score at regular intervals during the study. Discharge home was based on clinical improvement during treatment in the PED; patients who were admitted to the hospital were removed from the study. Follow-up was conducted the fifth day after discharge from the ED either by clinic visit or by telephone. Patients were assessed for symptomatic improvement and relapse or clinical deterioration during the study period by a clinician blinded to group assignment. Forty-two children participated in this pilot study. There were no significant differences between the IMD and OP groups for gender or age. Mean ages were: 82 months (SD 46 months), IMD group; 63 months (SD 36 months), OP group. Clinical progress (based on PI) with treatment in the PED was the same in both groups: pretreatment median, PI = 6; PED discharge median, PI = 2. None of the study patients were hospitalized during the follow-up period, and all reported symptomatic improvement since initial treatment. The data of this pilot study suggest that IMD may be a feasible alternative to OP for treatment of acute wheezing episodes in children with asthma. IMD provides sufficient treatment to prevent clinical deterioration within 5 days after initial therapy for mild to moderate pediatric exacerbations of asthma that are responsive to nebulized medications.
- Emergency department