By Evelyn RingIrish Examiner Reporter
Asthma medications taken during infancy have been linked to stunted growth.
Scientists have found children who used inhaled corticosteroids during the first two years of life were too short for their age.
The effect on growth was more evident in children taking the asthma prevention inhaler, budesonide, for more than six months.
Inhaled corticosteroids are frequently used to treat infants with recurrent wheeziness. The potent anti-inflammatory agents effectively reduce asthma symptoms.
However, researchers from Finland said their findings highlighted the importance of using the medicines appropriately when treating very young children.
The research, based on a study of 12,482 Finnish children, aged from birth to 24 months, was presented this week at the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology annual meeting in Barcelona, Spain.
Researchers from Kuopio University Hospital and University of Eastern Finland analysed the children’s height, weight and asthma medicine.
Many factors that alter development in children, such as chronic illnesses and long-term use of oral corticosteroids, may cause a shorter than normal height in adulthood.
Lead researcher Dr Antti Saari said the impact of corticosteroids on growth was examined in older children and was thought to alter growth, only temporarily.
There was a lack of studies on the use of inhaled corticosteroid to treat infants.
“Our research shows a link between long-term treatment of inhaled corticosteroids during infancy and stunted growth at or after the age of two in otherwise healthy children,” said Dr Saari.
He said the research group would be assessing the impact of inhaled corticosteroids on growth in older children and observe them for longer periods.
The Asthma Society of Ireland said it was crucial that parents of children with asthma had the right information about their child’s treatment and were not afraid of administering what was often life-saving medicine because of its side effects.
It said the benefit of inhaled corticosteroids in controlling persistent asthma had been long known and remained the cornerstone of asthma treatment.
One in five children in Ireland has asthma and many are prescribed both reliever and controller medication.
“Parents may be concerned about using controller medication, but the dangers of stopping taking asthma medication as prescribed by their doctor far outweigh the possible effect on growth,” a society spokesperson said.
Uncontrolled asthma could lead to poor growth, the spokesperson said. “Irish and international asthma guidelines advise that health professionals prescribe the lowest appropriate dose of asthma medication and that they ‘step down’ medication when asthma control is achieved.”
The spokesperson said it was important parents took their child to their GP at least once a year to have a structured asthma review. “If a child does not take their controller medication as prescribed, it can result in repeated asthma attacks and may result in them needing multiple courses of steroid tablets, which may have an impact on growth, on bone health and have other side effects.”
Asthma is manageable but, with more than one person a week dying from it in Ireland and thousands more hospitalised, it is vital everyone with asthma takes their medication as prescribed, the spokesperson added.
Anyone with concerns or questions can call the Asthma Advice-line at 1850 44 54 64 or visit www.asthma.ie.
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