Several recent studies have drawn attention to the use of corticosteroids in treating asthmatic children. These drugs, generally inhaled nasally or orally, relieve asthma symptoms by reducing inflammations of the airways.
While their usefulness in combating the condition is hard to deny, current controversy abounds over whether or not childhood corticosteroid usage will cause a notable suppression of height by the time patients reach adulthood.
Finnish researcher Dr. Antti Saari suggests that using corticosteroids to treat young children could result in a suppression of up to 3cm of adult height. These findings, presented to the 2015 European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology conference, show a measurable growth stunt in toddlers using corticosteroids. Dr. Saari studied over 12,000 Finnish children 24 months or younger, and found that when children this young are given steroid treatment for a period of over six months, they are more likely to be shorter than their untreated peers.
This news could be cause for alarm for parents concerned about their children’s growth, although Dr. Saari’s research was limited to toddler subjects and did not follow them through adolescence. The dramatic 3cm of growth suppression was calculated using the height of each child’s parents, and the assumption that the rate of stunted growth would remain constant through puberty.
Even given this grain of salt, the potential loss of over an inch of adult height could be enough to encourage parents to think twice before treating their children with strong steroids. Luckily, there is a second opinion.
‘Corticosteroids’ positive effects outweigh the slight impact on height.’
Dr. Franklin Adkinson authored a report for the New England Journal of Medicine that declares corticosteroids to be not only safe, but by far the most effective treatment for asthmatic children. Dr. Adkinson’s study covers over 1,000 American children between 5 and 12 years of age, who were measured annually for up to six years. The study found a 1.1cm growth stunt in the very first year of steroid use, but that stunt did not continue; these findings are supported by a Danish study published in the same journal that followed a group of children through puberty and noted no conclusive growth suppression by adulthood.
Claude Lenfant, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and chief funder of Dr. Adkinson’s study, concludes that the positive effects of steroid use outweigh any minor loss of height that may prove to exist.
While the three studies all agree that further research into childhood corticosteroid use is necessary, parents should rest assured that asthma medication steroids remain highly effective and do not guarantee significant growth suppression for their children.