Research by the Federal University of Rio Grande in Brazil and University of Montreal in Canada showed that in the first year of children using steroids for asthma, they showed growth slower to than to their peers. On an average, the height seemed to be reduced by around half a centimetre every year in comparison to those children who used other medication for asthma or a placebo.
The effect of inhaled corticosteroids, also known as "preventers," was being studied by the researchers by conducting 25 trials, which involved around 8,500 children suffering from mild to moderate persistent asthma. The results of these trials showed a minute though significant link between using inhalers that help reduce inflammation in the airways to the lungs and stunted child growth, with an average reduction of 0.48 centimentre or 0.19 inches.
The overall decrease in height, on an average during a year's treatment period, showed that the children were 0.61 centimetre shorter than expected. One of the 25 trials that tracked children until their adulthood found that children before reaching puberty who were treated with the drug budesonide for around 4.3 years had an average reduction of their adult growth of about 1.20 centimetres.
The researchers suggested that inhalers should be prescribed at the "lowest effective dose" and that those children who have been prescribed inhalers should be monitored for their growth rate. In comparison to the benefits of the inhalers, the stunted growth rate seems to be a minor risk. A childhood asthma that goes untreated will have a harmful effect on the child than their growth.
Dr Linjie Zhang from the Federal University of Rio Grande stressed that the effect of the inhalers is less pronounced in the following years, and the effect is minor when compared to benefits which include controlling asthma and ensuring that the lungs show full growth. The director of research and policy at Asthma Research UK, Samantha Walker, seemed to echo his comments.
She 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."