Background: Although high-dose inhaled glucocorticoids (GCs) with or without chronically administered oral GCs are often used in children with severe persistent asthma, the adverse effects associated with their use have not been well-described in this patient population.
Objective: We sought to determine the GC-induced adverse effects profile of older children with severe persistent asthma.
Methods: A chart review of 163 consecutive children 9 years of age or older admitted to National Jewish for difficult to control asthma was done.
Results: The population studied consisted mostly of adolescents (mean +/- SD age, 14.4 +/- 2.1 years) with severe asthma receiving high-dose inhaled GC therapy (1675 +/- 94 microg/d) and averaging 6 systemic GC bursts per year. 50% required chronic oral GC therapy. GC-associated adverse effects were common and included hypertension (88%), cushingoid features (66%), adrenal suppression (56%), myopathy (50%), osteopenia (46%), growth suppression (39%), obesity and hypercholesterolemia (30%), and cataracts (14%). Height standard deviation scores of -0.44, -1.22, and -0.93 for those receiving intermittent, alternate day, and daily oral GCs, respectively, were smaller (less suppressed) than published values from the same institution before inhaled GC therapy (standard deviation scores of -1.26, -1.91, and -1.95, respectively). Osteopenia was strongly associated with growth suppression (odds ratio, 5.6; confidence interval, 2.7-11.8; P <.0001) and was found to be more common in female than male subjects, even after correcting for short stature (42% vs 18%, P <.006).
Conclusions: GC-associated adverse effects are still unacceptably common among children with severe asthma, even in those not receiving chronically administered oral GC therapy yet receiving high-dose inhaled GCs. Therefore close monitoring and proper intervention are warranted, especially in female subjects, who appear to be at greater risk for osteopenia. There is clearly a need to consider alternative therapy or earlier intervention. The magnitude of growth suppression, while still a problem, appeared to be less severe with the addition of inhaled GC therapy. This observation suggests that high-dose inhaled GC therapy, by affording better asthma control and allowing less use of systemic therapy, has attenuated the growth-suppressive effects of poorly controlled asthma.