From the Journals

In utero exposure to asthma medication not tied to risks of neurodevelopmental disorders



Use of asthma medication by pregnant women was not associated with an increased risk of autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or Tourette syndrome for their children, a new study shows.

The drugs included in the study were leukotriene-receptor antagonists (LTRAs), which are often used to treat allergic airway diseases, including asthma and allergic rhinitis.

“Over the years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has monitored post-marketing data about the potential harm of neuropsychiatric events (NEs) associated with montelukast, the first type of LTRAs, and issued boxed warnings about serious mental health side effects for montelukast in 2020,” said corresponding author Tsung-Chieh Yao, MD, of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Taiwan, in an interview.

However, evidence of a link between NEs and LTRA use has been inconsistent, according to Dr. Yao and colleagues.

“To date, it remains totally unknown whether the exposure to LTRAs during pregnancy is associated with the risk of neuropsychiatric events in offspring,” said Dr. Yao.

To address this question, the researchers used data from National Health Insurance Research Database in Taiwan to identify pregnant women and their offspring from 2009 to 2019. The initial study population included 576,157 mother-offspring pairs, including 1,995 LTRA-exposed and 574,162 nonexposed children.

The women had a diagnosis of asthma or allergic rhinitis; multiple births and children with congenital malformations were excluded. LTRA exposure was defined as any dispensed prescription for LTRAs during pregnancy. Approximately two-thirds of the mothers were aged 30-40 years at the time of delivery.

The findings were published in a research letter in JAMA Network Open.

In the study population at large, the incidence of the three neurodevelopmental disorders ADHD, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and Tourette syndrome was not significantly different between those children exposed to LTRAs and those not exposed to LTRAs in utero (1.25% vs. 1.32%; 3.31% vs. 4.36%; and 0.45% vs. 0.83%, respectively).

After propensity score matching, the study population included 1,988 LTRA-exposed children and 19,863 nonexposed children. In this group, no significant associations appeared between prenatal LTRA exposure and the risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (adjusted hazard ratio, 1.03), autism spectrum disorder (AHR, 1.01), and Tourette syndrome (AHR, 0.63).

Neither duration nor cumulative dose of LTRA use during pregnancy showed an association with ADHD, ASD, or Tourette syndrome in offspring. Duration of LTRA use was categorized as shorter or longer periods of 1-4 weeks vs. more than 4 weeks; cumulative dose was categorized as 1-170 mg vs. 170 mg or higher.

The findings were limited by the lack of randomization, inability to detect long-term risk, and potential lack of generalizability to non-Asian populations, and more research is needed to replicate the results, the researchers noted. However, the current findings were strengthened by the large study population, and suggest that LTRA use in pregnancy does not present a significant risk for NEs in children, which should be reassuring to clinicians and patients, they concluded.

The current study is the first to use the whole of Taiwan population data and extends previous studies by examining the association between LTRA use during pregnancy and risk of neuropsychiatric events in offspring, Dr. Yao said in an interview. “The possibly surprising, but reassuring, finding is that prenatal LTRA exposure did not increase risk of ADHD, ASD, and Tourette syndrome in offspring,” he said.

“Clinicians prescribing LTRAs such as montelukast (Singulair and generics) to pregnant women with asthma or allergic rhinitis may be reassured by our findings,” Dr. Yao added. The results offer real-world evidence to help inform decision-making about the use of LTRAs during pregnancy, although additional research is needed to replicate the study findings in other populations, he said.

The study was supported by the National Health Research Institutes, Taiwan, the Ministry of Science and Technology of Taiwan, the National Science and Technology Council of Taiwan, and the Chang Gung Medical Foundation. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose.

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