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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Apr 15;(2):CD001506. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001506.pub3.

Nebulised hypertonic saline for cystic fibrosis.

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Respiratory Medicine HMRI, Level 3 John Hunter Hospital, Locked Bag 1 HRMC, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, NSW 2310.

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Impaired mucociliary clearance characterises lung disease in cystic fibrosis (CF). Hypertonic saline (HS) enhances mucociliary clearance in vitro and may lessen the destructive inflammatory process in the airways.


To investigate the effects of nebulised HS in CF compared to placebo or other treatments for mucociliary clearance.


We searched the Cochrane CF and Genetic Disorders Group Trials Register, comprising references identified from comprehensive electronic database searches, handsearches of relevant journals and abstract books of conference proceedings.Most recent search: 31 July 2008.


Controlled trials assessing HS compared to placebo or other mucolytic therapy, for any duration or dose regimen in people with CF (any age or disease severity).


Two authors independently reviewed all identified trials and data; and assessed trial quality.


Twelve trials (442 participants, aged 6 to 46 years) were included; five excluded and two await classification.In two placebo-controlled trials, HS (3% to 7%, 10 ml twice-a-day) significantly increased forced expiratory volume at one second (FEV1) at four weeks, mean difference (MD) 4.15 (95% CI 1.14 to 7.16); but not significantly after 48 weeks, MD 2.31 (95% CI -2.72 to 7.34). Two trials compared a similar dose of HS to recombinant deoxyribonuclease (RhDNAse). One three-week trial showed a non-significant difference, MD 1.60 (95% CI -7.96 to 11.16). However, in the second trial, after 12 weeks, RhDNAse led to a greater increase in FEV1 than HS (5 ml twice-daily), in participants with moderate to severe lung disease, MD 8.00 (95% CI 2.00 to 14.00).One 48-week placebo-controlled trial showed significant improvements in frequency of antibiotic use and quality of life; also that HS did not increase the concentration of Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Staphylococcus aureus.


Treatment with 7% HS for 48 weeks showed a small improvement in FEV1 at four weeks; however, this was not sustained at 48 weeks (primary outcome measure of the only long-term trial). Unlike RhDNAse, HS can't, in the long term, be said to improve lung function. However, it did improve quality of life and reduce pulmonary exacerbations. Delivered following a bronchodilator, HS appears inexpensive and safe with no increased infection risk.We believe there is sufficient evidence to recommend using HS in CF; qualifying this we highlight that the only long-term trial failed to demonstrate a significant difference in its primary outcome (lung function) with improvements only in secondary outcomes.

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