Researchers at Geelong Hospital in Australia examined the effect of parent-initiated oral prednisolone treatment on acute asthma in 230 children aged five to 12 years with a history of recurrent asthma.
Previous studies failed to find a benefit associated with parent-initiated oral corticosteroid treatment. But because asthma is a leading cause of hospital admission, the authors saw a clear need to reduce burden on health resources.
In a three-year study the researchers assessed children's daytime and night-time symptoms using a scoring diary.
In total, 308 episodes requiring intervention occurred and were treated with either a short course of oral prednisolone 1mg/kg daily or a placebo.
Children given prednisolone showed a 15 per cent reduction in daytime symptom score compared with those treated with placebo. There was also a 16 per cent reduction in night-time symptom score for children given prednisolone, as well as reduced risk of healthcare resources use and reduced school absenteeism.
Lead researcher Dr Peter Vuillermin and colleagues wrote: 'From a health resource viewpoint, the use of parent-initiated oral corticosteroids is cheap and seems to be associated with an important reduction in health resource use, which is costly.'
However, potential side-effects of repeated courses include effects on behaviour, adrenal function and reduced adult height in children with asthma.
The authors concluded: 'The modest benefits of this strategy must be balanced against potential side-effects of repeated courses of an oral corticosteroid.'