Asthma can develop in childhood, in adolescence, and, as I have experienced, later in life as an adult. However, the only type of asthma that has been linked to shortened height is asthma that develops during childhood. I don’t have asthma, but I can remember some classmates as early as third and fourth grade that needed to carry an inhaler.
In one government study, 1,000 children with mild to severe asthma between the ages of 5 and 12 were given inhaler treatments for their asthma. They were given twice-a-day treatments for over four years so that the effects of the medication used could be studied more closely. The children were split into three groups with the first taking budesonide, an inhaled corticosteroid medication. The second group received nedocromil, an inhaled non-steroid medication, and a third group received a placebo. All participants in the study also received albuterol, which is a drug for relief from acute asthma symptoms.
The children in the first two groups grew slower at a noticeable rate, but only the children who took budesonide remained shorter, the rest of the participants eventually caught up and started to grow normally. The results were called surprising, one researches commented, because it has always been assumed that the shortened height caused by budesonide was temporary like the other non-steroid medication. The study however, didn’t continue into adulthood so the study wasn’t able to reveal if the participants remained slightly shorter later in life.
Other similar studies have been conducted and the ensuing results have conceded that children who take corticosteroid medication through an inhaler for childhood asthma are more likely to be about a half inch shorter as adults. That’s not much of a difference in height, but it does give valuable information about the treatments used for childhood asthma. It raises the question “should we give budesonide to children for asthma?” There are other medications that work, as the study reveals. Perhaps steroids are not the wisest choice of childhood medications.
Though the study ultimately found that the height difference in adults who received steroid treatments for asthma as children was usually no more than half an inch, it illuminates an important underlying question. That question is “what other childhood drugs have effects that carry on into adulthood?” If doctors have always assumed that a growth stunt is temporary with steroids used to treat asthma, what else has been ignored and dismissed but actually has repercussions for children when they reach their maturity?
- Kelly, H. W., Sternberg, A. L., Lescher, R., Fuhlbrigge, A. L., Williams, P., Zeiger, R. S., et al. (2012). Effect of inhaled glucocorticoids in childhood on adult height. The New England Journal of Medicine, 367, 904-912.
- Smith, R. (2012, September 4). Asthma inhalers in childhood linked to shorter height: research. The Telegraph.
- Boyles, S., & Chang, L. (2012, September 4). Asthma drug shown to stunt growth. WebMD.