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To study patients with respiratory syncytial virus bronchiolitis in respiratory failure to make specific measurements reflecting airway resistance before and after treatment with commonly used agents. We hypothesized that racemic epinephrine would decrease airways resistance more effectively than levalbuterol, and levalbuterol would decrease airways resistance more effectively than racemic albuterol. Normal saline was used as a control.Prospective, randomized, controlled, blinded study.Tertiary Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in a University affiliated hospital in the northeastern United States.Twenty-two patients with respiratory syncytial virus bronchiolitis and in respiratory failure were enrolled. All were intubated and ventilated in a volume control mode and sedated.In a randomized, blinded fashion patients were given four agents: norepinephrine, levalbuterol, racemic albuterol, and normal saline at 6 hr intervals.As indicators of bronchodilation, peak inspiratory pressure and inspiratory respiratory system resistance were measured before and 20 mins after each agent was given. Thus, each patient acted as his/her own control.There were small but statistically significant decreases in peak inspiratory pressure after racemic epinephrine treatment, levalbuterol, and racemic albuterol. There was no change in peak inspiratory pressure after inhaled normal saline. Inspiratory respiratory system resistance fell significantly after all treatments, including saline. Heart rate rose significantly after inhaled bronchodilator treatments (p < 0.05 for all treatments).Similar statistically significant bronchodilation occurred after all three bronchodilators as indicated by a decrease in peak inspiratory pressure and respiratory system resistance, but these changes were small and probably clinically insignificant. However, side effects of bronchodilators, such as tachycardia, also occurred, and these may be clinically significant. Thus the benefit of bronchodilator treatment in these patients is small, does not differ among the drugs we studied and of questionable value.