Steroids in asthma inhalers can stunt children’s growth say research scientists

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ASTHMA inhalers can stunt children’s growth, according to new research published today.

Scientists say the widely used remedies can cut growth rates by about half a centimetre during the first year of treatment. But they and other experts stressed that a 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 8,000 young people aged 18 and under with mild to moderate asthma. Asthma Research UK’s director of research and policy, Samantha Walker, said: “Uncontrolled asthma can substantially increase the likelihood of asthma attacks, hospitalisation and even death and we know that inhaled steroids, taken regularly, significantly reduce the likelihood of these events happening.

“For a long time now people with asthma have told us they fear the side effects of taking asthma medicines but the good news is this evidence shows only a relatively minor impact from inhaled corticosteroids. No parent should therefore stop their children taking these lifesaving medicines.”

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 researchers from Brazil’s Federal University of Rio Grande assessed effects of the drugs on growth.

They looked at 25 trials involving 8,471 youngsters and found that as a group, corticosteroids suppressed growth when compared with inactive placebos or non-steroidal drugs.

Fourteen of the trials, with 5,717 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.