A study published on Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that children who used an inhaled steroid to control their asthma symptoms were likely to have their growth stunted by an average of about half an inch. Researchers who conducted the study stated in the summary of their findings that the effect appears to be permanent, but is not "progressive or cumulative."
The scientists working on the study did not expect to find that the decrease in the children's growth from the use of inhalers was a permanent effect. A different study in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2000 had noted that the side effects of such steroids were "limited to a small, transient reduction in growth velocity," a belief that the current study's authors repeated at the beginning of their own research report.
Here is some of the key information to have emerged from the new study into the effects that inhaled steroids have on children's growth.
* The study published on Monday involved 943 patients who were part of the Childhood Asthma Management Program. Researchers had divided the patients into three groups -- those who received a daily dose of budesonide, those that had received a daily dose of nedocromil, and those that had received a daily placebo.
* According to the study, during comparisons of the participants in the two groups that had been administered inhaled steroids against those in the placebo group, it was found that average adult height had been reduced in those two groups by an average of half an inch.
* All participants in the study had begun using the inhaled steroids, otherwise known as glucocorticoids, between the ages of 5 and 13. Researchers reported in their findings that the effect was most significant in those that had begun the treatments before they hit puberty, and that the size of the dosage that they received also appeared to be a factor in how much the child's growth was stunted.
* The study's lead author, William Kelly, who works at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, sent a statement to the media on Monday, in which he said that the correlation between dosage and height decrease merited an approach that involves "finding the minimum dose required to treat each child's asthma," as quoted by Reuters.
* Kelly and other physicians, including Dr. Len Horovitz of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, have stated that the benefits of using inhaled steroids far outweighs the risk that a child's expected adult height may end up being slightly less than originally predicted. Horovitz told Healthday News on Monday that "without inhaled steroids, some of these persistent, asthmatic children may well have suffered considerable morbidity [illness], which was prevented by the inhaled steroids."
Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.
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