No link between asthma inhalers and hyperactivity in preschool children

The widely held parental belief that asthma inhalers cause hyperactivity in children is not confirmed by research published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

The researchers studied 19 asthmatic children between the ages of 2 and 5, all of whom were treated with fast acting reliever inhalers/nebulisers containing salbutamol. The children were being seen at the children’s respiratory clinic at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, London.

Before being tested, the children’s hyperactivity levels were scored on a specially devised rating scale and the parents were asked about salbutamol’s effect on their children. The researchers then tested the children twice, giving them either salbutamol or a dummy drug (placebo), and vice versa. Play sessions were held before and after the children had been given salbutamol during which activity levels were scored.

Without exception, all the parents believed their children became hyperactive after inhaling salbutamol, but their ratings of the children’s activity levels were the same before and after inhaling salbutamol. And there was no observed difference in the children’s behaviour.

The authors suggest that perhaps repeated doses of salbutamol are required to produce hyperactivity. Alternatively, they suggest that the circumstances in which salbutamol is given – during an attack and at home – may alter the child’s response and affect the observations of their parents.

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