The practice of giving steroid drugs to treat children whose throats have been burned by acid or lye has proven to be ineffective, researchers reported last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Steroids have been used to keep damaged throats open since 1950, when tests in mice showed that the drugs prevented some of the inflammation that often comes after a caustic poison has been swallowed. An estimated 26,000 people swallow corrosive agents each year. Most victims are 5 or younger.
But steroids can have serious side effects, and there have been few controlled tests of the treatment, especially involving children, according to lead researcher Dr. Kathryn D. Anderson of the Children's National Medical Center in Washington.
Over an 18-year period the Anderson team looked at the effectiveness of steroid treatments in 60 children who developed bad burns to their esophagus, the tube leading to the stomach, after swallowing acid or lye. Half received the steroid prednisone.
Among the badly burned children, those who received the steroid treatments were just as likely to have their esophagus swell and become dangerously narrow from the damage as children who did not receive the steroids.