Bronchiolitis, a respiratory tract infection that affects the airways, accounts for 80,000 to 120,000 hospitalizations in children under age 1 annually. Because children with bronchiolitis often have trouble moving air in and out of the lungs, extra oxygen can help them breathe easier. In the past, treating children with this infection required hospitalization, but in some communities, finding enough room for kids needing oxygen therapy became an impossible task. As a solution, some doctors began offering home oxygen therapy to their patients. Researchers from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and Children's Hospital in Denver investigated the safety and effectiveness of home oxygen therapy for infants and children with bronchiolitis.
Over three winter seasons between December 1998 and April 2001, 92 children between ages 2 months and 24 months who visited the emergency department for bronchiolitis were randomly assigned to:
- receive home oxygen therapy after 8 hours of observation in the emergency department, or
- be admitted to the hospital.
If the child received home therapy, the parents were taught to operate the oxygen unit and agreed to take the child to the doctor for a checkup within 24 hours. Parents checked in with their child's doctor regularly during the first week after going home with the oxygen equipment.
Home oxygen therapy proved successful for almost all patients who completed it. Most parents (34 out of 35) and primary care doctors reported feeling satisfied with having the patient at home, and only one child had a serious complication associated with receiving home oxygen therapy.
What This Means to You. Further research is needed, but in this small study, home oxygen therapy appeared to be safe and effective for treating small children with bronchiolitis. This type of therapy requires regular communication between parents and the child's doctor; however, being at home may be more economical, help children feel more comfortable, and make it easier for parents to care for their children.
Source: Lalit Bajaj, MD, MPH; Carol G. Turner, MD; Joan Bothner, MD; Pediatrics, March 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: March 2006