Asthma Inhalers Can Stunt Growth

By Amir Khan on September 5, 2012 9:35 AM EDT

Asthma
Children with asthma already have breathing problems, but according to a new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, they may have a growing problem as well (Photo: Creative Commons)

Children with asthma already have breathing problems, but according to a new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, they may have a growing problem as well. Researchers found that children who use asthma inhalers often end up shorter than those who don't.

Inhaled steroids, such as the kind used in asthma pumps, are known to stunt growth over the first year of use, but this was the first study to look at how the medication affects long-term growth. Researchers found that children treated with an inhaled steroid were, on average, half an inch shorter than those not treated with them -- an effect that lasted into adulthood.

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"The thinking has been that these children catch up, but these findings suggest this is not the case," Dr. Neil Kao, an asthma specialist who was not involved in the study, told WebMD.

Researchers looked at more than 1,000 children with mild to moderate asthma. They were divided into three groups -- the first was treated with an inhaled steroid, the second with a non-steroid inhaler, and the third with a placebo.

After a year to two years of treatment, children on the steroid inhaler were approximately a half-inch shorter than the children in the other groups. However, researchers said the slight impact on height should not deter parents from giving their children a very effective medication. In addition, lowering the dosage could lessen the effect as well.

"If a child is not growing as they should, we may reduce their steroid dose," Dr. Robert Strunk, study author and researcher from the University of Washington, told NBC News. "But we think that the half-inch of lowered adult height must be balanced against the well-established benefit of inhaled corticosteroids in controlling persistent asthma. We will use the lowest effective dose to control symptoms to minimize concerns about effects on adult height."

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