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Assessment of hair cortisol as a potential biomarker for possible adrenal suppression due to inhaled corticosteroid use in children with asthma: A retrospective observational study. Clin Biochem 2018 Jun;56:26-32



Pubmed ID




Scopus ID

2-s2.0-85046338233 (requires institutional sign-in at Scopus site)   5 Citations


BACKGROUND: Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) are the recommended long-term control therapy for asthma in children. However, concern exists regarding potential adrenal suppression with chronic ICS use. Our pilot study reported that hair cortisol in children was 50% lower during ICS therapy than prior to therapy, suggestive of adrenal suppression.

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate hair cortisol concentration (HCC) as a potential biomarker for possible adrenal suppression from ICS use in children with asthma.

METHODS: A retrospective observational study was performed at asthma clinics in Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Toronto, Canada. Children (n = 586) were recruited from July 2012 to December 2014 inclusive of those without asthma, with asthma not using ICS, and with asthma using ICS. The most recent three-month HCC was measured by enzyme immunoassay and compared among the groups. Quantile regression analysis was performed to identify factors potentially affecting HCC.

RESULTS: The median HCC was not significantly different among the children: No ICS (n = 47, 6.7 ng/g, interquartile range (IQR) 3.7-9.8 ng/g), ICS Treated (n = 360, 6.5 ng/g, IQR 3.8-14.3 ng/g), and Controls (n = 53, 5.8 ng/g, IQR 4.6-16.7 ng/g). 5.6% of the children using ICS had hair cortisol <2.0 ng/g compared to none in the control groups (P < .05, comparing ICS Treated (20/360) to all Controls combined (0/100)) and only half had been exposed to systemic corticosteroids. Age, sex, BMI, and intranasal corticosteroid use were significantly associated with HCC.

CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest HCC may be a potential biomarker for adrenal suppression as a population of children using ICS with HCC < 2.0 ng/g was identified compared to none in the control groups. Further research is needed to determine if those children have or are at risk of adrenal suppression or insufficiency.

Author List

Smy L, Shaw K, Amstutz U, Staub M, Chaudhry S, Smith A, Carleton B, Koren G


Laura Smy PhD Assistant Professor in the Pathology department at Medical College of Wisconsin

MESH terms used to index this publication - Major topics in bold

Administration, Intranasal
Adrenal Cortex Hormones
Adrenal Glands
Adrenal Insufficiency
Anti-Inflammatory Agents
Child, Preschool
Cohort Studies
Immunoenzyme Techniques
Outpatient Clinics, Hospital
Pilot Projects
Regression Analysis
Retrospective Studies