Children whose colds tend to progress and lead to severe wheezing and difficulty in breathing are generally given oral corticosteroids as rescue therapy.
“Oral corticosteroids such as prednisone have become the standard of care for these situations,” said lead study author Leonard Bacharier, professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
“But there are some studies that suggest these treatments do not consistently work for young children. That’s why we want to find ways to prevent upper respiratory infections from progressing to lower respiratory tract illnesses,” Bacharier noted.
The researchers conducted a test with the antibiotic azithromycin against placebo in 607 children at nine academic medical centres in the US.
The children were aged 12 months to six years and had histories of developing severe lower respiratory tract illnesses but otherwise were healthy.
Of the 92 whose illnesses was deemed severe because they required oral corticosteroids, 57 were in the placebo group compared with 35 in the group receiving azithromycin.
“We chose this antibiotic dose in order to try to maximize the anti-inflammatory effects,” Bacharier explained.
The researchers worked with each family to identify a set of early symptoms that would indicate the parents to begin the treatment at the earliest signs of cold symptoms.
“Our study suggests we can reduce the risk of severe respiratory illnesses by giving azithromycin treatment earlier,” Bacharier noted.
Among children who developed severe illnesses while on azithromycin, overall symptoms were less severe than in those who received placebo, the findings showed.
The study appeared online in the journal JAMA