Acute bronchiolitis is the most common lower respiratory tract infection in young children that leads to emergency department visits and hospitalizations. Bronchiolitis is a clinical diagnosis, and diagnostic laboratory and radiographic tests play a limited role in most cases. While studies have demonstrated a lack of efficacy for bronchodilators and corticosteroids, more recent studies suggest a potential role for combination therapies and high-flow nasal cannula therapy. Frequent evaluation of patient clinical status including respiratory rate, work of breathing, oxygen saturation, and the ability to take oral fluids are important in determining safe disposition. This issue reviews the literature to provide evidence-based recommendations for effective evaluation and treatment of pediatric patients with acute bronchiolitis.
As your shift is winding down at 4 am, a mother brings in her 9-month-old infant, whom she describes as “gasping for air.” The baby has had a runny nose and cough for a few days as well as a low-grade fever, but now he is breathing rapidly and wheezing, with lower intercostal retractions. The mother states that the infant has had wheezing in the past, and she asks if he might have asthma since “it runs in the family.” She also indicates that in the last 12 hours, he has not taken his usual amount of fluids. His oxygen saturation level is 87% on room air. You begin to think… should I treat this as reactive airway disease, asthma, or bronchiolitis? When should I give the patient albuterol, nebulized epinephrine, or oxygen? Does the infant need steroids? You also wonder whether this patient is going to tire and require assisted ventilation or whether there are any other alternatives to intubation.
It is the middle of influenza season, and the waiting room is full of coughing, sniffling children. Your patient, a 6-week-old boy, presents with rhinorrhea and poor feeding for the last 2 days. The mother states that he is not breastfeeding as well as usual due to his congestion. She says there is no family history of respiratory problems. The boy was born prematurely at 29 weeks' gestation, requiring admission to the NICU for 2 weeks for respiratory support. His oxygen saturation level is 91% to 92% on room air. Should you give supplemental oxygen? Should you send respiratory viral panels? Does the infant need to be admitted?
Bronchiolitis is the most common lower respiratory tract infection (LRTI) in infants and young children aged < 2 years. Each year in the United States, LRTIs cause > 100,000 hospitalizations of children aged < 1 year. In particular, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the leading cause of hospitalization in this age group. A study published in 2016 that summarized trends in bronchiolitis hospitalizations in the United States reported an average cost of $8530 per admission, or $1.7 billion nationwide.1 Although there was a decrease in bronchiolitis hospitalizations between 2000 and 2009 (from 17.9 to 14.9 per thousand, respectively), bronchiolitis remains a major healthcare financial burden.1,2
Despite the high prevalence of bronchiolitis, it is a clinical diagnosis without a common international definition. In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) defined bronchiolitis as “rhinitis, tachypnea, wheezing, cough, crackles, use of accessory muscles, and/or nasal flaring in infants.”3 Children presenting with these symptoms are often given numerous diagnoses such as reactive airway disease, wheezing, cough, asthma, or pneumonia, as well as bronchiolitis.4 A study by Jartti et al suggested that the diagnosis of bronchiolitis should be restricted either to children aged < 24 months who are having their first episode of wheezing or to children aged < 12 months.5
This issue of Pediatric Emergency Medicine Practice uses evidence-based medicine to recommend strategies for effective evaluation and treatment of bronchiolitis in pediatric patients. Novel treatments for acute bronchiolitis such as nasal continuous positive airway pressure (nCPAP), high-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) therapy, nebulized hypertonic saline, and heliox also will be discussed.
A search of articles published on bronchiolitis from 1970 to 2019 was performed using Ovid MEDLINE® and PubMed. Terms used in the search included wheezing, bronchiolitis, lower respiratory tract infection, RSV, infant respiratory distress, bronchiolitis guidelines, and steroids. More than 200 articles were analyzed, providing the background for further review. In addition, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews was consulted. Major current international guidelines for the diagnosis and management of bronchiolitis were also reviewed and compared in relation to recommendations pertinent to the assessment and management of acute bronchiolitis in the emergency department (ED).3,6-11
There is significant variation in the bronchiolitis literature in the definition of bronchiolitis, the clinical scoring systems, and outcome measures. Additionally, differing cutoff ages for bronchiolitis, as well as the lack of a valid clinical scoring system that correlates with clinically significant improvement and the inclusion of testing for RSV or other viruses in the diagnosis complicate a review and comparison of the literature. Although there are excellent published guidelines to help clinicians address this common condition, they often exclude the group at high risk for severe bronchiolitis (eg, patients who are at risk for serious complications, such as apnea, and who may need ventilatory support). The 2014 AAP clinical practice guidelines provide recommendations on the diagnosis, management, and prevention of bronchiolitis.
2. “I always admit first-time wheezing patients with bronchiolitis if they do not clear in the ED.”
One of the main reasons to admit patients with bronchiolitis is the concern regarding the development of apnea. Risk factors for apnea include young age (< 6-12 weeks old), prematurity, a history of apnea of prematurity, presentation with apnea, or apnea witnessed by a parent or healthcare provider. In addition, patients with bronchiolitis may be admitted because of respiratory distress, hypoxia, or dehydration related to the inability to take fluids secondary to increased work of breathing. Wheezing alone is not a criterion for admission unless it is associated with other risk factors for severe disease or apnea. Social factors such as parental comfort and reliability in ensuring appropriate care and follow-up should be taken into consideration when disposition decisions are made in the ED.
3. “The infant was wheezing, so we sent her home on steroids.”
In contrast to the demonstrated effectiveness of dexamethasone in treating asthma and croup, no conclusive evidence has been shown to date that the use of systemic dexamethasone improves outcomes in first-time wheezing patients with bronchiolitis. In addition, because of safety concerns with the use of high-dose inhaled corticosteroids in infants, these medications should be avoided unless there is a clear likelihood of benefit.
10. “The ‘happy wheezer’s’ pulse oximetry reading was 92% on room air, so I immediately admin-istered supplemental oxygen.”
In a wheezing patient who has no respiratory distress but has low SpO2, the first priority is to ensure that pulse oximetry probes are placed appropriately, particularly in the active infant/child. Poorly placed probes and motion artifacts will lead to inaccurate measurements and false alarms. Before instituting oxygen therapy, the initial reading should be verified by repositioning the probe and repeating the measurement. The infant’s nose should also be suctioned. If the SpO2 level remains ≤ 90%, oxygen should be administered. The infant’s clinical work of breathing should also be assessed and may be a factor in the decision to use oxygen supplementation.
Evidence-based medicine requires a critical appraisal of the literature based upon study methodology and number of subjects. Not all references are equally robust. The findings of a large, prospective, randomized, and blinded trial should carry more weight than a case report.
To help the reader judge the strength of each reference, pertinent information about the study is included in bold type following the reference, where available. In addition, the most informative references cited in this paper, as determined by the author, are highlighted.
Differentiating bronchiolitis from asthma and reactive airway disease in young children can be challenging, and a rapidly changing clinical presentation can confound accurate assessment of the severity of the illness. This episode reviews risk factors for apnea and severe bronchiolitis; discusses treatments/therapies and provides evidence-based recommendations for the management of pediatric patients with bronchiolitis.Show More v
Dr. Ashoo is a practicing emergency physician, board-certified in emergency medicine and clinical informatics. Join him as he takes you through the October 2019 issue of Pediatric Emergency Medicine Practice: Acute Bronchiolitis: Assessment and Management in the Emergency Department (Pharmacology CME).
Get quick-hit summaries of hot topics in emergency medicine. EMplify summarizes evidence-based reviews in a monthly podcast. Highlights of the latest research published in EB Medicine's peer-reviewed journals educate and arm you for life in the ED.
Madeline M. Joseph, MD, FACEP, FAAP; Amy Edwards, DO
Michael J. Alfonzo, MD, MS; Christopher Strother, MD
October 2, 2019
November 1, 2022
4 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™, 4 ACEP Category I Credits, 4 AAP Prescribed Credits, 4 AOA Category 2-A or 2-B Credits. Specialty CME Credits: Included as part of the 4 credits, this CME activity is eligible for 0.5 Pharmacology CME credits
Date of Original Release: October 1, 2019. Date of most recent review: September 15, 2019. Termination date: October 1, 2022.
Accreditation: EB Medicine is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to provide continuing medical education for physicians. This activity has been planned and implemented in accordance with the accreditation requirements and policies of the ACCME.
Credit Designation: EB Medicine designates this enduring material for a maximum of 4 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditsTM. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.
Specialty CME: Included as part of the 4 credits, this CME activity is eligible for 0.5 Pharmacology CME credits, subject to your state and institutional approval.
ACEP Accreditation: Pediatric Emergency Medicine Practice is also approved by the American College of Emergency Physicians for 48 hours of ACEP Category I credit per annual subscription.
AAP Accreditation: This continuing medical education activity has been reviewed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and is acceptable for a maximum of 48 AAP credits per year. These credits can be applied toward the AAP CME/CPD Award available to Fellows and Candidate Fellows of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
AOA Accreditation: Pediatric Emergency Medicine Practice is eligible for up to 48 American Osteopathic Association Category 2-A or 2-B credit hours per year.
Needs Assessment: The need for this educational activity was determined by a survey of medical staff, including the editorial board of this publication; review of morbidity and mortality data from the CDC, AHA, NCHS, and ACEP; and evaluation of prior activities for emergency physicians.
Target Audience: This enduring material is designed for emergency medicine physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and residents.
Goals: Upon completion of this activity, you should be able to: (1) demonstrate medical decision-making based on the strongest clinical evidence; (2) cost-effectively diagnose and treat the most critical ED presentations; and (3) describe the most common medicolegal pitfalls for each topic covered.
Discussion of Investigational Information: As part of the journal, faculty may be presenting investigational information about pharmaceutical products that is outside Food and Drug Administration approved labeling. Information presented as part of this activity is intended solely as continuing medical education and is not intended to promote off-label use of any pharmaceutical product.
Faculty Disclosures: It is the policy of EB Medicine to ensure objectivity, balance, independence, transparency, and scientific rigor in all CME-sponsored educational activities. All faculty participating in the planning or implementation of a sponsored activity are expected to disclose to the audience any relevant financial relationships and to assist in resolving any conflict of interest that may arise from the relationship. Presenters must also make a meaningful disclosure to the audience of their discussions of unlabeled or unapproved drugs or devices. In compliance with all ACCME Essentials, Standards, and Guidelines, all faculty for this CME activity were asked to complete a full disclosure statement. The information received is as follows: Dr. Joseph, Dr. Edwards, Dr. Alfonzo, Dr. Strother, Dr. Mishler, Dr. Claudius, Dr. Horeczko, and their related parties report no significant financial interest or other relationship with the manufacturer(s) of any commercial product(s) discussed in this educational presentation.
Commercial Support: This issue of Pediatric Emergency Medicine Practice did not receive any commercial support.
Earning Credit: Two Convenient Methods: (1) Go online to www.ebmedicine.net/CME and click on the title of this article. (2) Mail or fax the CME Answer And Evaluation Form with your June and December issues to Pediatric Emergency Medicine Practice.
Hardware/Software Requirements: You will need a Macintosh or PC with internet capabilities to access the website.
Additional Policies: For additional policies, including our statement of conflict of interest, source of funding, statement of informed consent, and statement of human and animal rights, visit https://www.ebmedicine.net/policies.