Complementary and alternative medicine for the treatment of bronchiolitis in infants: A systematic review

Kok Pim Kua, Shaun Wen Huey Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Bronchiolitis is a common cause of hospitalization among infants. The limited effectiveness of conventional medication has prompted the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as alternative or adjunctive therapy for the management of bronchiolitis. Aims: To determine the effectiveness and safety of CAM for the treatment of bronchiolitis in infants aged less than 2 years. Methods: A systematic electronic search was performed in Medline, Embase, CINAHL, AMED, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) from their respective inception to June 30, 2016 for studies evaluating CAM as an intervention to treat bronchiolitis in infants (1 month to 2 years of age). The CAM could be any form of treatment defined by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and was utilized either as a single agent or adjunctive therapy. The predefined primary outcome was length of hospital stay. Secondary outcomes were time to resolution of bronchiolitis symptoms, adverse events, and all other clinical outcomes reported by the included studies. Results: The review identified 11 studies (8 randomized controlled trials and 3 cohort studies) examining four herbal preparations and four supplements used either as adjunctive or alternative therapy for bronchiolitis in 904 infants. Most studies were of moderate quality. Among six studies reporting on length of stay, a significant benefit was found for Chinese herbal medicine compared to ribavirin in one cohort study (n = 66) and Vitamin D compared to placebo in one randomized controlled trial (n = 89). Studies of Chinese herbal medicine (4 studies, n = 365), Vitamin D (1 study, n = 89), N-acetylcysteine (1 study, n = 100), and magnesium (2 studies, n = 176) showed some benefits with respect to clinical severity scores, oxygen saturation, and other symptoms, although data were sparse for any single intervention and the outcomes assessed and reported varied across studies. Only five studies reported on adverse events; no serious adverse events were reported. Conclusions: Among 11 studies examining the effect of CAM on inpatients with bronchiolitis, six reported on the review's primary outcome of length of hospital stay. In general, findings did not show a significant benefit associated with the primary outcome. Preliminary evidence indicated that Chinese herbal medicine mixtures, Vitamin D, N-acetylcysteine, and magnesium might be useful in managing the symptoms of bronchiolitis. However, the evidence was not sufficient or rigorous enough to formulate recommendations for the use of any CAM. Among studies that reported adverse events, no serious harms were noted.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0172289
Number of pages18
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2017

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