Intranasal steroid drops used to treat nasal obstruction may cause Cushing’s syndrome and adrenal insufficiency in infants, a case study of two patients suggests.
The study, “Iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome and adrenal insufficiency in infants on intranasal dexamethasone drops for nasal obstruction – Case series and literature review,” was published in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology.
Children with nasal obstruction may have severe delays in development and can face life-threatening complications later in life such as obstructive sleep apnea and cardiopulmonary problems.
While intranasal steroid drops have become increasingly popular as a substitute for surgery, they can have adverse effects. In addition to suppressing the immune system and changing metabolism, high levels of corticosteroids in the blood may cause Cushing’s syndrome.
Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College presented two cases of adrenal gland insufficiency and Cushing’s syndrome caused by intranasal dexamethasone drops. Dexamethasone is a type of corticosteroid medication.
First, they described the case of a 3-month-old boy who was taken to the hospital following a life-threatening episode at home after feeding. A physical evaluation revealed nasal congestion with no additional anatomic abnormalities.
Treatment with nasal dexamethasone drops three times a day improved his breathing. While the dosage was later decreased to three drops once daily, a congestion episode led the mother to increase the dose back to the initial recommendation.
After seven weeks of treatment, the boy was noted to have facial puffiness, leading to an endocrine evaluation that revealed low cortisol levels. The dose was eventually reduced, and the boy’s cortisol levels returned to normal after several months.
The second case was a 6-week-old boy with a history of chronic congestion and difficulty feeding. He had severe nasal obstruction and required intubation due to respiratory distress. A nasal exam revealed damaged mucosa with severe nasal cavity narrowing, and he began treatment with three ciprofloxacin-dexamethasone drops three times a day.
After two and a half weeks of treatment, the boy’s cortisol levels were considerably low, and adrenal insufficiency was diagnosed. The treatment dose was reduced in an attempt to improve cortisol levels, but nasal obstruction symptoms continued.
The child then underwent surgery to resolve his nasal obstruction, and the treatment with steroid drops was discontinued. While his cortisol levels subsequently improved, they continued to be low, suggesting that he may have a hormone-related disease.
Despite the benefits of steroid-based nasal drops, small infants are more sensitive to steroid compounds. In addition, nasal drops are more easily absorbed than nasal sprays, suggesting that infants taking these medications should be better controlled for side effects.
“Patients started on this therapy must be closely monitored in a multi-disciplinary fashion to ensure patient safety and optimal symptom resolution,” the researchers suggested.
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