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Asthma drug for toddlers falls short

LOS ANGELES -- Giving inhaled steroids to toddlers at high risk of developing asthma helps in the short term but doesn't prevent the chronic condition as researchers hoped, a US study suggests.

Similarly, a study in Denmark found that taking inhaled steroids doesn't stave off asthma in infants.

''Although inhaled corticosteroids may control persistent or severe wheezing, such drugs should not be used in the hope of altering the course of asthma in childhood," wrote Drs. Diane Gold and Anne Fuhlbrigge, of Harvard Medical School, who had no role in the research.

Both studies appear in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

Asthma is the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States, afflicting about 9 million children including 1.5 million under age 5, according to federal statistics. Inhaled steroids are often the first line of defense prescribed to asthma sufferers to control their symptoms. The drug works by reducing inflammation and opening the airways to help patients breathe more easily.

Few studies have been done on young children to see whether inhaled steroids can prevent asthma attacks if given early.

In the government study, 285 high-risk preschoolers took either twice-daily doses of inhaled Flovent or a dummy medication.

In the Danish study funded by drug maker AstraZeneca, 411 infants with a history of wheezing received either the inhalant Pulmicort or a dummy medication.

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