Asthma inhalers can stunt growth - study

New research suggests that asthma inhalers can stunt the growth of children. Photo / Thinkstock
New research suggests that asthma inhalers can stunt the growth of children. Photo / Thinkstock

Asthma inhalers can stunt the growth of children, UK research suggests.

During the first year of treatment, the widely used remedies cut growth rates by about half a centimetre, said scientists.

But they and other experts stressed that slight loss of growth was a small price to pay for protection against potentially lethal asthma attacks.

Evidence also suggested that the effect could be minimised by using lower doses of the drugs.

Scientists reviewed trial data on more than 8000 young people aged 18 and under with mild to moderate asthma. The research focused on corticosteroid inhalers which are prescribed as first-line treatments for both adults and children with persistent asthma.

Writing in the Cochrane Library, a collection of publications designed to inform health care decision making, the team assessed effects of the drugs on children's growth.

Lead author Dr Linjie Zhang, from the Federal University of Rio Grande in Brazil, said: "The evidence we reviewed suggests that children treated daily with inhaled corticosteroids may grow approximately half a centimetre less during the first year of treatment.

"But this effect is less pronounced in subsequent years, is not cumulative, and seems minor compared to the known benefits of the drugs for controlling asthma and ensuring full lung growth."The review looked at 25 trials involving 8471 children and teenagers up to 18 years old.It found that as a group, corticosteroids suppressed growth rates when compared with inactive placebos or non-steroidal drugs.

Fourteen of the trials, with 5717 participants, reported growth over the course of a year.

Use of asthma inhalers was found to cut half a centimetre from an average annual growth rate of six to nine centimetres.

A second review by the same researchers examined data from 22 trials in which children were treated with low or medium doses of inhaled corticosteroids.

Only three trials followed 728 children for a year or more.In these trials, reducing inhaler doses by about one puff a day improved growth by a quarter of a centimetre per year.

Seven inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) drugs are currently marketed around the world: beclomethasone, budesonide, ciclesonide, flunisolide, fluticasone, mometasone and triamcinolone.

Of these, ciclesonide, fluticasone and mometasone are newer and supposedly safer.

Experts commenting on the research said it was important to put the findings in perspective and urged parents not to stop making asthma inhalers available to their children.

Samantha Walker, director of research and policy at the charity Asthma Research UK, said: "Half a centimetre in growth is a small price to pay for medicine which may save your child's life."


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