Asthma Drug Use in Infants Linked to Stunted Growth

By Peter Russell
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD

Oct. 5, 2015 -- Treating babies with asthma medication may stunt their growth, new research suggests.

Medications called inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) that can treat conditions like asthma are often used in infants with recurrent wheezing. But a study of more than 12,000 Finnish babies found that those who were given these meds during the first 2 years of life were too short for their age.

That result was more evident in children who were given the asthma medicine budesonide before their first birthday or for more than 6 months.

The researchers presented their results at the 54th Annual European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology Meeting in Barcelona, Spain. They say their findings underline the importance of using these medicines in infants appropriately.

Many things that alter development in children, such as chronic illnesses and long-term use of oral corticosteroids, may cause a shorter-than-normal height in adulthood.

"Previously, the impact of corticosteroids on growth was looked at in older children and was thought to alter growth only temporarily," says lead researcher Antti Saari, from the University of Eastern Finland, in a statement. "Our research shows a link between long-term treatment [with] ICS during infancy and stunted growth at or after the age of 2 in otherwise healthy children."

The researchers plan to examine the impact of inhaled corticosteroids on growth in older children and observe them over a longer period, and also see if the growth issues are permanent.

"Inhaled corticosteroids are commonly found in preventer inhalers, which help people to manage their asthma by reducing inflammation in the airways," says Samantha Walker, PhD, director of research and policy at Asthma UK.

"Poorly managed asthma can substantially increase the likelihood of asthma attacks, hospitalization and even death, and there is a wealth of evidence to show that inhaled corticosteroids reduce and control asthma symptoms.

"This study confirms other research which suggests that inhaled corticosteroids used in infancy can interfere with bone growth, although it's important to note that the impact is relatively minor. No parent should therefore stop their children taking these lifesaving medicines, because a slight reduction in growth is a small price to pay for medicines which may save your child's life."

More than 18 million adults in the U.S. and nearly 7 million children have asthma, according to the CDC.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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SOURCES: ESPE 2015, Oct. 1-3, 2015, Barcelona.Samantha Walker, PhD, director of research and policy, Asthma UK.

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