Does altering the dose of inhaled corticosteroids make a difference in growth among children with asthma?

Background

Asthma guidelines recommend inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) as the first choice of treatment for children with persistent asthma that is not well controlled when only a reliever inhaler is used to treat symptoms. Steroids work by reducing inflammation in the lungs and are known to control underlying symptoms of asthma. However, parents and physicians remain concerned about the potential negative effect of ICS on growth.

Review question

Does altering the dose of inhaled corticosteroids make a difference in the growth of children with asthma?

What evidence did we find?

We studied whether a difference could be seen in the growth of children with persistent asthma who were using different doses of the same ICS molecule and the same delivery device. We found 22 eligible trials, but only 10 of them measured growth or other measures of interest. Overall, 3394 children included in the review combined 17 group comparisons (i.e. 17 pairs of groups of children with mild to moderate asthma using a particular dose and type of steroid in 10 trials). Trials used different ICS molecules (beclomethasone, budesonide, ciclesonide, fluticasone or mometasone) either on their own or in combination with a long-acting beta2-agonist (a drug used to open up the airways) and generally compared low doses of corticosteroids (50 to 100 μg) with low to medium (200 μg) doses of corticosteroids (converted in μg HFA-beclomethasone equivalent) over 12 to 52 weeks.

Results

We found a small but statistically significant group difference in growth over 12 months between these different doses clearly favouring the lower dose of ICS. The type of corticosteroid among newer molecules (ciclesonide, fluticasone, mometasone) did not seem to influence the impact on growth over one year. Differences in corticosteroid doses did not seem to affect the change in height, the gain in weight, the gain in body mass index and the maturation of bones.

Quality of the evidence

This review is based on a small number of trials that reported data and were conducted on children with mild to moderate asthma. Only 10 of 22 studies measured the few outcomes of interest for this review, and only four comparisons reported growth over 12 months. Our confidence in the quality of evidence is high for this outcome, however it is low to moderate for several other outcomes, depending on the number of trials reporting these outcomes. Moreover, a few outcomes were reported only by a single trial; as these findings have not been confirmed by other trials, we downgraded the evidence for these outcomes to low quality. An insufficient number of trials have compared the effect of a larger difference in dose, for example, between a high dose and a low dose of ICS and of other popular molecules such as budesonide and beclomethasone over a year or longer of treatment.

Conclusions

We report an ICS dose–dependent reduction in growth velocity in prepubescent school-aged children with mild to moderate persistent asthma. The choice of ICS molecule (mometasone, ciclesonide or fluticasone) was not found to affect the level of growth velocity response over a year. The effect of corticosteroids on growth was not consistently reported: among 22 eligible trials, only four comparisons reported the effects of corticosteroids on growth over one year. In view of parents' and clinicians' concerns, lack of or incomplete reporting of growth is a matter of concern given the importance of the topic. We recommend that growth be systematically reported in all trials involving children taking ICS for three months or longer. Until further data comparing low versus high ICS dose and trials of longer duration are available, we recommend that the minimal effective ICS dose be used in all children with asthma.

Authors' conclusions: 

In prepubescent school-aged children with mild to moderate persistent asthma, a small but statistically significant group difference in growth velocity was observed between low doses of ICS and low to medium doses of HFA-beclomethasone equivalent, favouring the use of low-dose ICS. No apparent difference in the magnitude of effect was associated with three molecules reporting one-year growth velocity, namely, mometasone, ciclesonide and fluticasone. In view of prevailing parents’ and physicians’ concerns about the growth suppressive effect of ICS, lack of or incomplete reporting of growth velocity in more than 86% (19/22) of eligible paediatric trials, including those using beclomethasone and budesonide, is a matter of concern. All future paediatric trials comparing different doses of ICS with or without placebo should systematically document growth. Findings support use of the minimal effective ICS dose in children with asthma.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) are the first-line treatment for children with persistent asthma. Their potential for growth suppression remains a matter of concern for parents and physicians.

Objectives: 

To assess whether increasing the dose of ICS is associated with slower linear growth, weight gain and skeletal maturation in children with asthma.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Airways Group Specialised Register of trials (CAGR) and the ClinicalTrials.gov website up to March 2014.

Selection criteria: 

Studies were eligible if they were parallel-group randomised trials evaluating the impact of different doses of the same ICS using the same device in both groups for a minimum of three months in children one to 17 years of age with persistent asthma.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors ascertained methodological quality independently using the Cochrane Risk of bias tool. The primary outcome was linear growth velocity. Secondary outcomes included change over time in growth velocity, height, weight, body mass index and skeletal maturation.

Main results: 

Among 22 eligible trials, 17 pairs of groups comparisons were derived from 10 trials (3394 children with mild to moderate asthma), measured growth and contributed data to the meta-analysis. Trials used ICS (beclomethasone, budesonide, ciclesonide, fluticasone or mometasone) as monotherapy or as combination therapy with a long-acting beta2-agonist and generally compared low (50 to 100 μg) versus low to medium (200 μg) doses of hydrofluoroalkane (HFA)-beclomethasone equivalent over 12 to 52 weeks. In the four comparisons reporting linear growth over 12 months, a significant group difference was observed, clearly indicating lower growth velocity in the higher ICS dose group of 5.74 cm/y compared with 5.94 cm/y on lower-dose ICS (N = 728 school-aged children; mean difference (MD)0.20 cm/y, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.02 to 0.39; high-quality evidence): No statistically significant heterogeneity was noted between trials contributing data. The ICS molecules (ciclesonide, fluticasone, mometasone) used in these four comparisons did not significantly influence the magnitude of effect (X2 = 2.19 (2 df), P value 0.33). Subgroup analyses on age, baseline severity of airway obstruction, ICS dose and concomitant use of non-steroidal antiasthmatic drugs were not performed because of similarity across trials or inadequate reporting. A statistically significant group difference was noted in unadjusted change in height from zero to three months (nine comparisons; N = 944 children; MD 0.15, 95% CI -0.28 to -0.02; moderate-quality evidence) in favour of a higher ICS dose. No statistically significant group differences in change in height were observed at other time points, nor were such differences in weight, body mass index and skeletal maturation reported with low quality of evidence due to imprecision.

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