Management approaches to intermittent wheezing in young children

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Purpose of review

To review the recently published studies addressing various treatment approaches for episodic wheezing in young children.

Recent findings

A landmark study demonstrated that short courses of oral corticosteroids initiated at the first sign of an upper respiratory tract infection decreased wheezing episode frequency and severity. Since then, alternative treatment strategies have been investigated. Montelukast decreased short-term daytime cough and delayed exacerbations following hospitalization for respiratory syncytial virus bronchiolitis, and led to fewer exacerbations without decreasing oral corticosteroids use among children with intermittent asthma. Preschool children with frequent wheezing at high risk for asthma receiving daily inhaled corticosteroids experienced lower rates of exacerbations requiring oral corticosteroids. Episodic use of inhaled corticosteroids, initiated at the early signs of an upper respiratory infection, led to modest reduction in symptoms, but not oral corticosteroid use. Among young children with ‘preasthma’, inhaled corticosteroids initiated after 3 days of wheezing did not affect the frequency or severity of wheezing episodes.


Evidence for the preferred treatment strategies for intermittent wheezing in young children remains incomplete. Most of the studies represent heterogeneous populations and lack adequate statistical power to evaluate relevant outcomes. Based on the evidence, there is rationale for further investigation of several management strategies, including corticosteroids and/or leukotriene receptor antagonists administered daily or episodically.

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