Nebulized Hypertonic Saline for Bronchiolitis: A Randomized Clinical Trial

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Bronchiolitis is one of the most common and costly respiratory diseases in infants and young children. Previous studies have shown a potential benefit of nebulized hypertonic saline; however, its effect in the emergency department (ED) setting is unclear.


To compare the effect of nebulized 3% hypertonic saline vs 0.9% normal saline on admission rate and length of stay in infants with bronchiolitis.


We conducted a double-blind, randomized clinical trial during 3 consecutive bronchiolitis seasons from March 1, 2008, through April 30, 2011. We recruited a convenience sample of patients younger than 24 months with a primary diagnosis of viral bronchiolitis presenting to the ED of 2 urban free-standing tertiary children’s hospitals. We excluded patients who were premature (gestational age, <34 weeks) or who had chronic pulmonary disease, immune deficiency, cardiac disease, or previous episodes of wheezing or inhaled bronchodilator use. Of eligible patients who were approached, 161 (26.6%) declined to participate.


Patients received 4 mL of 3% sodium chloride (hypertonic saline [HS group]) or 0.9% sodium chloride (normal saline [NS group]) inhaled as many as 3 times in the ED. Those admitted received the assigned medication every 8 hours until discharge. All treatment solutions were premedicated with albuterol sulfate.


Hospital admission rate, length of stay for admitted patients, and Respiratory Distress Assessment Instrument score.


A total of 197 patients were enrolled in the NS group and 211 in the HS group. Admission rate in the 3% HS group was 28.9% compared with 42.6% in the NS group (adjusted odds ratio from logistic regression, 0.49 [95% CI, 0.28-0.86]). Mean (SD) length of stay for hospitalized patients was 3.92 (5.24) days for the NS group and 3.16 (2.11) days for the HS group (P = .24). The Respiratory Distress Assessment Instrument score decreased after treatment in both groups; however, we found no significant difference between groups (P = .35).


Hypertonic saline given to children with bronchiolitis in the ED decreases hospital admissions. We can detect no significant difference in Respiratory Distress Assessment Instrument score or length of stay between the HS and NS groups.

TRIAL REGISTRATION Identifier: NCT00619918

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