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Quick Cold Treatment Lowers Asthma Risk

Treating Kids at the First Sign of Sniffles May Prevent Complications

WebMD Health News

Feb. 25, 2003 -- For parents with a child who has asthma, keeping a prescription steroid pill on hand may be a valuable tool in keeping their child out of the hospital during cold and flu season. A new report shows treating a cold at the first sign of symptoms with a steroid can greatly reduce the risk of asthma-related emergencies and trips to the hospital.

Researchers say major asthma attacks in children are usually triggered by respiratory infections, such as the common cold or the flu, and children under age 5 are five times as likely to be hospitalized as a result of asthma complications.

A report on treating this type of virus-induced asthma in young children shows that prompt treatment with an oral steroid (corticosteroid) is key in preventing a common cold from becoming something worse. The report appears in the February 2003 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.

Because the drugs take several hours to take effect, the author of the report recommends that parents of children with a history of severe asthma attacks keep these medications on hand to prevent unnecessary delays in treatment.

"It is essential that the family have the medication on hand so that, for example, on a Sunday night when the pharmacies are closed and their 3-year-old with recurrent asthma begins to cough, they can start the treatment," says researcher Miles Weinberger, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of Iowa, in a news release.

Previous studies show that this type of at-home treatment can prevent up to 90% of emergency asthma visits.

Many children already use inhaled steroids to prevent asthma attacks and ease symptoms, but researchers say those drugs have not been proved effective at preventing asthma flare-ups caused by the common cold.

"However, beginning a short course of an oral corticosteroid at the right time is a highly effective treatment for these acute episodes," says Weinberger.

The oral steroids most commonly used in this type of treatment are prednisone and prednisolone.

A related study published in the February issue of Pediatrics shows that parents can rest easy about giving their child short courses of oral steroids to treat occasional asthma flare-ups.

Researchers say some parents are concerned about giving their child steroids because of potential side effects, such as hurting bone growth. But after comparing children who received up to 11 short steroid treatments in one year with those who never used them, the study found use of the steroids had no lasting effects on bone density or on the child's height or weight.

"One of the main concerns with corticosteroid use is their effect on bones," says researcher Gilles Chabot, MD, of McGill University Health Center in Montreal, in a news release. "We were able to look directly at the children's bones and determine that the repeated short courses of oral corticosteroids had no detectible cumulative negative effect on bone formation."

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