Asthma in Children – Steroids and Growth

Children with severe or uncontrolled asthma are likely to be shorter and thinner than others of the same age. The natural hormone which makes children grow is released in bursts during sleep and exercise. If your child is losing sleep and unable to exercise because of asthma, this will also slow down growth. Children with bad asthma often burn up calories from the food they eat faster, and unless they have gargantuan appetites this may also hold back their growth. Once their asthma is brought under control, many children catch up with their peer group.

All this means that uncontrolled asthma can affect a child’s growth and development. Unfortunately there is some evidence that long courses of high-dose steroid tablets which are used to control asthma may also limit a child’s growth.

However, these long courses should only be used when asthma is indeed severe, e.g. when the child’s life might be at risk.

The use of steroids, whether inhaled or in tablet form, should always be carefully monitored, so that children never receive more than is needed to keep their symptoms at bay.

Doctors believe the benefits of controlling asthma with steroids outweigh the risks that growth may be limited. They argue that once the child’s asthma is controlled, they are likely to catch up with their peers.

These decisions are difficult, and you and your child have the right to expect the issues to be fully discussed. If you are worried about the steroid drugs that are being prescribed for your child, talk to your doctor about your fears. He will be able to put the case for and against their use, and hopefully allay your fears.

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