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A randomised controlled trial to assess the relative benefits of large volume spacers and nebulisers to treat acute asthma in hospital


OBJECTIVES To compare the clinical effectiveness, acceptability, and cost benefit of administering β2 agonists by means of a metered dose inhaler and large volume spacer with conventional nebulisers to children admitted to hospital with acute asthma.

METHODS A randomised controlled trial was conducted over five months. Sixty one children older than 3 years admitted to a large teaching hospital and a district general hospital with acute asthma completed the study. Children received either 5 mg of salbutamol up to one hourly by jet nebuliser, or up to 10 puffs of salbutamol 100 μg by means of a metered dose inhaler and spacer up to one hourly.

RESULTS Median hospital stay was 40 hours in the nebuliser group and 36.5 hours in the spacer group. Asthma disability scores at two weeks after discharge were significantly improved in the spacer group. Drug costs were £14.62 less for each patient in the spacer group.

CONCLUSIONS Large volume spacers are an acceptable, cost effective alternative to nebulisers in treating children admitted with acute asthma, provided that the children can use the mouthpiece, and symptoms are not severe. Their use facilitates effective home treatment by parents, with subsequent reduction in morbidity and re-admission rates.

  • acute asthma
  • large volume spacer
  • metered dose inhaler
  • nebuliser
  • β2 agonists
  • cost effectiveness

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