Objective. Recent studies have demonstrated that a single intramuscular injection of dexamethasone (0.6 mg/kg) shortens the duration and severity of illness in hospitalized patients with acute viral laryngotracheitis (croup). Our objective was to determine if dexamethasone has a role in the outpatient management of patients with acute viral croup of moderate severity.
Methods. Patients, 6 months to 5 years of age, who came to the emergency department (ED) with acute viral croup, a croup score of at least 2 (range 0 to 17), and a disposition of discharge were randomized in a double-blind fashion to receive a single intramuscular injection of dexamethasone, 0.6 mg/kg, or an equal volume of normal saline before discharge from the ED. Patients were excluded if they had any structural abnormalities, had received any steroids in the preceding 24 hours, or if they required β-agonist therapy, more than one racemic epinephrine treatment, or hospitalization. Patients were followed up by telephone 24 hours and 7 to 10 days after discharge to determine whether additional medical attention was sought for perceived lack of improvement or worsening of symptoms. Secondary outcome included the parents' perception of how the child was doing at 24 hours, based on a 4-point ordinal scale: worse (1), same (2), improved (3), symptoms resolved (4), and the number of days it took for complete recovery.
Results. Of the 38 patients comprising the study group, 19 received dexamethasone. The median age was 19 months (range 6 to 66 months), and median pretreatment croup score was 3 (range 2 to 5) for both groups. The number of patients requiring racemic epinephrine was similar in both groups. Five patients sought additional medical attention within 48 hours. Four of the five patients had received placebo (21% of the placebo group) and one had received dexamethasone (5% of the steroid group) (not statistically significant). At the 24-hour telephone follow-up, significantly more patients in the dexamethasone group had a score consistent with improvement compared with placebo (84% vs 42%, P = .003). There was no difference in the number of days for symptoms to completely resolve between the two groups.
Conclusion. The use of dexamethasone in the outpatient management of viral croup was associated with a reduction in severity of illness within 24 hours after treatment. Patients with viral croup of moderate severity should be considered as candidates for the use of dexamethasone before discharge from the ED.
- Received January 17, 1995.
- Accepted March 6, 1995.
- Copyright © 1995 by the American Academy of Pediatrics