New research suggests that an infant who receives asthma medication before he or she is two years old may not grow properly and could possibly be stunted later in life.
The research was presented at the 54th Annual European Society for Pediatric Endocrinology Meeting in Barcelona, Spain. The presenters, hailing from Kuopio University Hospital and University of Eastern Finland, stressed the importance of medicating infants appropriately.
The Finnish team analyzed data on over 12,482 children aged 0-24 months. In particular, they compared height, weight, and asthma medicine intake.
Their findings suggest that young children who inhaled corticosteroids, a common anti-asthma medication, were too short for their age. The negative effects of the asthma medication Budesonide were even more pronounced.
“It is important that doctors think twice whether these steroids are needed or not in this age group,” said lead researcher Dr. Antti Saari.
Asthma is an affliction that blocks or narrows the airways in the lungs. The restrictions cause difficulty breathing. In a severe attack, a person with asthma may need to emergency medical treatment to breath normally once again.
Corticosteroids are hormones that can be produced naturally by the body or made synthetically. Budesonide a type of corticosteroid. When an infant wheezes frequently, inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) are administered.
But these medications may have harmful effects on one in the early stages of development. The Finnish scientists say that one of those effects is a slower growth rate and being short as an adult.
“Previously, the impact of corticosteroids on growth was looked at in older children and was thought to alter growth only temporarily,” said Dr. Saari.
“However, studies on inhaled corticosteroid use in infants are practically lacking and thus this has been questioned in the recent study. Our research shows a link between long-term treatment of ICS during infancy and stunted growth at or after the age of 2 in otherwise healthy children.”
The team hopes to further explore the effects of corticosteroids on children by examining growth patterns of older children.
“According to our research, we could only assess the impact of inhaled corticosteroids on growth in infancy until 2 to 3 years of age. The longitudinal impact of these medications is not clear and we would therefore like to investigate this further,” said Dr. Saari.
Despite these claims, medical professionals urge parents to not hesitate if their infant is having difficulty breathing.
“No parent should stop their children taking these life-saving medicines, because a slight reduction in growth is a small price to pay for medicines which may save your child’s life,” said Dr. Samantha Walker, director of research and policy at Asthma UK