Asthma Medication May Stunt Growth in Childhood

New research finds toddlers who are given corticosteroids may end up shorter than their peers. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Certain corticosteroids used to manage symptoms of asthma may stunt growth in children who use the drugs within the first two years of their life, according to research presented Saturday at the 54th Annual European Society for Pediatric Endocrinology Meeting.

The study involved more than 12,482 children (6,391 boys and 6,091 girls) up to the age of 24 months. Researchers from the University of Finland analyzed data on height, weight and the history of which drugs had been prescribed to each child. They found that children who took fluticasone and budesonide, two inhaled corticosteroids, had their growth stunted by approximately one inch, on average. The effect was most prevalent in children who used the drug for more than six months.

They adjusted their findings to take into account the use of antibiotics, since frequent infections and antibiotic use has already been linked to stunted growth.

The researchers say their findings back up an earlier study that found corticosteroids may interfere with bone growth in young children. One study published in 2014 found the drugs delayed growth in older children. That analysis involved 8,471 children.

The researchers say their findings don't mean children shouldn't use these medications but rather that the drugs should be prescribed much more judiciously. It may also be critical for pediatricians to track the growth of patients who are taking the drugs to assess any problems with physical development.

Corticosteroids work by reducing inflammation in the airways. Experts say that only a small amount of the medicine is actually absorbed by the body, but this study indicates that even a minimal dose may have long-term impact on a child. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6.8 million children in the U.S. are diagnosed with asthma—about 9.3 percent of all children in the country. Symptoms of asthma in children include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, chest congestion and pain. Sometimes when it remains untreated, asthma in children can also be fatal.