BACKGROUND: Preterm infants often suffer from recurrent respiratory symptoms at follow up. Although these infants are responsive to treatment with bronchodilators some continue to wheeze or cough despite treatment. In a randomised double blind placebo controlled trial, the ability of inhaled steroids to reduce recurrent respiratory symptoms and the requirement for bronchodilator treatment in preterm infants less than two years of age has been assessed. METHODS: Eighteen premature infants with mean gestational age 28 weeks and postnatal age 10.5 months were recruited. The study consisted of two six week treatment periods separated by a two week washout period. The infants received either 200 micrograms of beclomethasone dipropionate or placebo as one puff twice daily from an inhaler, through a spacer and a face mask. Parents kept a daily record of their infants' respiratory tract symptoms (wheeze and cough) and use of bronchodilators. Functional residual capacity (FRC) was measured at the beginning and end of each six week period. RESULTS: The symptom score was reduced by 37% in the active compared with the placebo period. During the active period the infants had a mean of 28 bronchodilator free days, compared with 22 days in the placebo period. The FRC improved significantly in the active but not the placebo period. CONCLUSION: Regular dosage with beclomethasone by inhalation is a useful treatment for preterm infants with respiratory symptoms.
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