Nebulised hypertonic saline for cystic fibrosis

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Background: Hypertonic saline enhances mucociliary clearance and may lessen the destructive inflammatory process in the airways. This is an update of a previously published review. Objectives: To investigate efficacy and tolerability of nebulised hypertonic saline treatment in people with cystic fibrosis (CF) compared to placebo or other treatments that enhance mucociliary clearance. Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Cystic Fibrosis and Genetic Disorders Group's Cystic Fibrosis Trials Register, comprising references identified from comprehensive electronic database searches, handsearches of relevant journals and abstract books of conference proceedings. We also searched ongoing trials databases. Most recent search: 25 April 2022. Selection criteria: We included randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials assessing hypertonic saline compared to placebo or other mucolytic therapy, for any duration or dose regimen in people with CF (any age or disease severity). Data collection and analysis: Two authors independently reviewed all identified trials and data, and assessed trial quality. We assessed the certainty of the evidence using GRADE. For cross-over trials we stipulated a one-week washout period. We planned to use results from a paired analysis in the review, but this was only possible in one trial. For other cross-over trials, we chose to treat the trials as if they were parallel. Main results: We included 24 trials (1318 participants, aged one month to 56 years); we excluded 29 trials, two trials are ongoing and six are awaiting classification. We judged 15 of the 24 included trials to have a high risk of bias due to participants' ability to discern the taste of the solutions. Hypertonic saline 3% to 7% versus placebo (stable disease). We are uncertain whether the regular use of nebulised hypertonic saline in stable lung disease leads to an improvement in forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) % predicted at four weeks, (mean difference (MD) 3.30%, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.71 to 5.89; 4 trials, 246 participants; very low-certainty evidence). In preschool children we found no difference in lung clearance index (LCI) at four weeks, but a small improvement after 48 weeks of treatment with hypertonic saline compared to isotonic saline (MD -0.60, 95% CI -1.00 to -0.19; 2 trials, 192 participants). We are also uncertain whether hypertonic saline made a difference to mucociliary clearance, pulmonary exacerbations or adverse events compared to placebo. Hypertonic saline versus control (acute exacerbation). Two trials compared hypertonic saline to control, but only one provided data. There may be little or no difference in lung function measured by FEV1 % predicted after hypertonic saline compared to isotonic saline (MD 5.10%, 95% CI -14.67 to 24.87; 1 trial, 130 participants). Neither trial reported any deaths or measures of sputum clearance. There were no serious adverse events. Hypertonic saline versus rhDNase. Three trials compared a similar dose of hypertonic saline to recombinant deoxyribonuclease (rhDNase); two trials (61 participants) provided data for inclusion in the review. We are uncertain whether there was an effect of hypertonic saline on FEV1 % predicted after three weeks (MD 1.60%, 95% CI -7.96 to 11.16; 1 trial, 14 participants; very low-certainty evidence). At three months, rhDNase may lead to a greater increase in FEV1 % predicted than hypertonic saline (5 mL twice daily) at 12 weeks in participants with moderate to severe lung disease (MD 8.00%, 95% CI 2.00 to 14.00; low-certainty evidence). We are uncertain whether adverse events differed between the two treatments. No deaths were reported. Hypertonic saline versus amiloride. One trial (12 participants) compared hypertonic saline to amiloride but did not report on most of our outcomes. The trial found that there was no difference between treatments in measures of sputum clearance (very low-certainty evidence). Hypertonic saline compared with sodium-2-mercaptoethane sulphonate (Mistabron®). One trial (29 participants) compared hypertonic saline to sodium-2-mercaptoethane sulphonate. The trial did not measure our primary outcomes. There was no difference between treatments in any measures of sputum clearance, courses of antibiotics or adverse events (very low-certainty evidence). Hypertonic saline versus mannitol. One trial (12 participants) compared hypertonic saline to mannitol, but did not report lung function at relevant time points for this review; there were no differences in sputum clearance, but mannitol was reported to be more 'irritating' (very low-certainty evidence). Hypertonic saline versus xylitol. Two trials compared hypertonic saline to xylitol, but we are uncertain whether there is any difference in FEV1 % predicted or median time to exacerbation between groups (very low-certainty evidence). No other outcomes were reported in the review. Hypertonic saline 7% versus hypertonic saline 3%. We are uncertain whether there was an improvement in FEV1 % predicted after treatment with 7% hypertonic saline compared with 3% (very low-certainty evidence). Authors' conclusions: We are very uncertain if regular use of nebulised hypertonic saline by adults and children over the age of 12 years with CF results in an improvement in lung function after four weeks (three trials; very low-certainty evidence); there was no difference seen at 48 weeks (one trial; low-certainty evidence). Hypertonic saline improved LCI modestly in children under the age of six years. Evidence from one small cross-over trial in children indicates that rhDNase may lead to better lung function than hypertonic saline at three months; qualifying this, we highlight that while the study did demonstrate that the improvement in FEV1 was greater with daily rhDNase, there were no differences seen in any of the secondary outcomes. Hypertonic saline does appear to be an effective adjunct to physiotherapy during acute exacerbations of lung disease in adults. However, for the outcomes assessed, the certainty of the evidence ranged from very low to low at best, according to the GRADE criteria. The role of hypertonic saline in conjunction with cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) modulator therapy now needs to be considered, and future research needs to focus on this aspect.




Wark, P., McDonald, V. M., & Smith, S. (2023). Nebulised hypertonic saline for cystic fibrosis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2023(6).

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