Steroids do not aid virus-induced wheeze

  • Deborah Condon

Giving steroids to pre-school children with virus-induced wheezing will not reduce their symptoms, the results of a new study indicate.

Wheezing can be described as a high pitched whistling sound during breathing. It occurs when air flows through narrowed breathing tubes. Wheezing is a sign that a person may be having breathing problems. It can be caused by a number of things, including asthma, bronchitis, smoking and a virus.

According to UK researchers, there has been ongoing controversy in the medical community about how to best treat pre-school children who are admitted to hospital with severe wheezing.

Steroids remain an important treatment for children with asthma-related wheezing, but pre-school children with viral-induced wheeze, where symptoms are only associated with colds or flu and do not persist when the child is not infected with a virus, have also been treated with steroids in the past.

The researchers have been carrying out a study to find out whether steroid medicines relieve wheezing symptoms in children under the age of five. They have found that when it comes to virus-induced wheeze, these medicines do not help young children.

“There may be some children, for example those with a family history of asthma, who benefit. However, young children who wheeze when they have a viral infection do not seem to be helped by steroids,” explained one of the researchers, Dr Alan Smyth of the University of Nottingham.

According to another of the researchers, Dr Monica Lakhanpaul of the University of Leicester, ‘a number of treatments are used in children without strong evidence’.

“This study demonstrates the need for further research in children not only to help us to find out treatments that work, but also those that do not work, which will then open the way to new research,” Dr Lakhanpaul said.

According to Dr Mike Thomas, the chief medical advisor for the UK charity, Asthma UK, these findings could have important implications for the medical community.

“Young children who only get wheezy when they have a cold or viral chest infection, but can breathe normally at other times, are likely to grow out of their tendency to wheeze by teenage years. It is important that we stop relying on a one-solution-fits-all, which means that these young children are taking steroids unnecessarily, and to search for more effective treatments for these children,” Dr Thomas said.

Details of these findings are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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