Epinephrine (adrenaline) compared to selective beta-2-agonist in adults or children with acute asthma: a systematic review and meta-analysis


International asthma guidelines recommend against epinephrine (adrenaline) administration in acute asthma unless associated with anaphylaxis or angio-oedema. However, administration of intramuscular epinephrine in addition to nebulised selective β2-agonist is recommended for acute severe or life-threatening asthma in many prehospital guidelines. We conducted a systematic review to determine the efficacy of epinephrine in comparison to selective β2-agonist in acute asthma.


We included peer-reviewed publications of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that enrolled children or adults in any healthcare setting and compared epinephrine by any route to selective β2-agonist by any route for an acute asthma exacerbation. The primary outcome was treatment failure, including hospitalisation, need for intubation or death.


Thirty-eight of 1140 studies were included. Overall quality of evidence was low. Seventeen studies contributed data on 1299 participants to the meta-analysis. There was significant statistical heterogeneity, I2=56%. The pooled Peto’s OR for treatment failure with epinephrine versus selective β2-agonist was 0.99 (0.75 to 1.32), p=0.95. There was strong evidence that recruitment age group was associated with different estimates of the odds of treatment failure; with studies recruiting adults-only having lower odds of treatment failure with epinephrine. It was not possible to determine whether epinephrine in addition to selective β2-agonist improved outcomes.


The low-quality evidence available suggests that epinephrine and selective β2-agonists have similar efficacy in acute asthma. There is a need for high-quality double-blind RCTs to determine whether addition of intramuscular epinephrine to inhaled or nebulised selective β2-agonist improves outcome.

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