Link Found Between Asthma Drugs and Autism

Researchers have found a possible relationship between anti-asthma drugs and an increased risk for autism in the children of moms who take the medicine.

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Could your asthma medication up your baby's chances of developing autism? According to recent research, it just might.

Researchers from Drexel University looked at birth records from Denmark from between 1997 and 2007. Based on these, they determined that the children of women who took íŸ-2-andrenergic receptor (B2AR) agonist drugs (which can be used to treat asthma and other pulmonary disorders) had a 30 percent increased risk of being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. According to the study's findings, 3.7 percent of the autistic children studied had mothers who took these drugs.

Link with autism

"This study adds to a body of recent research suggesting that medications used for certain common health conditions like asthma, when taken in pregnancy, may influence a newborn's neurodevelopment," Craig Newschaffer, Ph.D., co-author of the study, said in a release.

Children whose mothers filled prescriptions for B2AR drugs within 90 days of conception and throughout pregnancy were considered to be exposed to the drug's effects. However, if a prescription for the medicine was not filled throughout that period, the child was not considered to be exposed to it. According to the research, there was no significant difference in the likelihood of developing autism if the child was exposed to the drug during the pre-conception window, first, second or third trimester. However, there did appear to be an increased risk when mothers took the drug throughout the duration of her pregnancy.

The asthma catch-22

With that being said, the study also mentioned that uncontrolled asthma in pregnant women can lead to "poor birth outcomes"—so avoiding medication entirely might not be the best answer. And there's also the possibility that asthma itself—not the drug that treats it—could affect a child's odds of an autism diagnosis.

"A challenge here is that the effects of the underlying health conditions themselves can also influence developmental outcomes," Newschaffer said. "Newly pregnant women taking medication for asthma or other conditions need to work closely with their health care provider to weigh the benefits of continuing medication use against possible risks."

Ultimately we'll need to see more research before we can determine what is truly best for mothers and their children when it comes to asthma treatment. For now, we suggest having a conversation with your doctor if you're ready to conceive but suffer from asthma.

"Since the teratogenic [causing development issues in a fetus] potential of most drugs with respect to neurodevelopmental outcomes is generally understudied, I would hope my research would encourage more researchers to explore prescription drug use as a potential autism spectrum disorder risk factor," study lead author Nicole Gidaya, Ph.D., said.

Related: What's Safe to Do During Pregnancy (And What's Not)