Is adrenal suppression in asthmatic children reversible? A case series

E W Zöllner


Background. Six hypocortisolaemic asthmatic children on steroids given at physiological doses were identified during a previous study.

Objectives. To establish whether hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis suppression (HPAS) could be reversed in hypocortisolaemic asthmatic children treated with steroids without sacrificing asthma control.

Methods. In this case series, treatment of six hypocortisolaemic patients was modified by introducing steroid-sparing asthma medications. Serum cortisol and repeat overnight metyrapone tests (ONMTPTs) were done until HPAS was reversed in all patients. A retrospective folder review was performed and the following data were extracted: body mass index standard deviation score (BMI SDS), adherence, daily steroid type and dose, treatment modification, serum cortisol, final ONMTPT result and time taken to achieve normalisation.

Results. The median serum cortisol level recovered to 311 nmol/L after 0.9 years (median). The ONMTPT normalised within 3.3 years (median). Steroid load decreased from 9.2 to 5.0 hydrocortisone equivalent mg/m2/d (medians), while asthma score improved from 1.42 to 0.85 (medians). Poor adherence was noted in two children before and four after treatment modification. BMI SDS decreased from –0.08 to –0.16 (medians).

Conclusions. Hypocortisolaemia and HPAS could be reversed in asthmatic children treated with physiological doses of steroids by reducing steroid load by 40% and supplementing therapy with steroid-sparing medication. Poor adherence may have either contributed to or retarded HPA recovery. Simultaneously, asthma control improved. Confirmation by a prospective study would be ideal, but may not be feasible.


Author's affiliations

E W Zöllner, Endocrine Unit, Department of Paediatrics, Tygerberg Children’s Hospital and Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

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Adrenal insufficiency; Steroids; Adverse effects; Asthma; Pituitary-adrenal function tests

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2018;108(6):502-505. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2018.v108i6.13031

Article History

Date submitted: 2018-05-25
Date published: 2018-05-25

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