We reviewed the MEDLINE database of articles published from January 1966 through December 2001 in search of data on the ability of the corticosteroid dexamethasone to protect against sensorineural hearing loss in children with meningitis. We found 1,034 articles that matched our keyword entries, and after various exclusions, we winnowed this number down to 16 articles that contained adequate data regarding audiometric evaluation and follow-up. The 16 articles included reports of 11 randomized controlled trials (only 10 are considered in this analysis), two meta-analyses, two retrospective case series, and two consensus statements. Of the 10 clinical trials (all of which contained level I evidence), four showed that dexamethasone had a protective effect and six showed that it did not. The authors of the two meta-analyses (both level I) concluded that there was a protective effect, and the authors of the two retrospective case series (both level IV) concluded that there was not. Both consensus statements (both level V) recommended the use of dexamethasone only in Haemophilus influenzae meningitis. We conclude that well-designed studies with level I evidence have shown that the benefit of dexamethasone in preventing hearing loss in children with meningitis remains unclear. Significant variables in treatment response include the specific pathogen, the type of antibiotic, and the timing of dexamethasone administration.
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