Asthma steroids for infants restrict full height in later life: Study

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Child with asthma
A nine-year-old boy breathes from a nebulizer as he seeks treatment for his asthma. Reuters/Carlos Garcia

Asthma steroids have been proven helpful to children suffering from the condition, but a new study reveals the harmful effect of the medication. According to the study, children under two years who take the drugs will not be able to reach full height in adulthood. 

The researchers of the study from the Kuopio University Hospital and University of Eastern Finland have found that children who used inhaled corticosteroids, or ICS, for a long-term period have been affected with stunted growth. The researchers analysed the data from 12,000 Finnish infants suffering from asthma and taking the medications.

ICS are commonly used in inhalers for conditions such as asthma to treat infants and adults with recurrent wheezing. The study, presented at the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology conference, reminds people that the steroids should be used in infants appropriately.

The researchers examined the height, weight and asthma medicine intake of children aged zero to 24 months and found that ICS have affected those who took the medications during their first two years in life. The analysis shows that ICS reduced adult height by 3 centimetres after a long-term use.

However, Dr Samantha Walker, director of research and policy at Asthma UK, said in a BBC report that the side effect of asthma steroids on the height of young children is “relatively minor" and that inhaled corticosteroids significantly help reduce and control the symptoms of asthma.

"No parent should stop their children [from] taking these life-saving medicines, because a slight reduction in growth is a small price to pay for medicines which may save your child's life,” Walker added.

The researchers also noted that a larger study of different groups of younger children is still needed to further examine the effects of asthma steroids. The team aims to perform longer observations and analyse the impact of ICS in older children’s growth.

The current study only covered the impact of ICS on growth in infancy until two to three years of age, according to lead researcher Dr Antti Saari. “The longitudinal impact of these medications is not clear and we would therefore like to investigate this further," he added.

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