Objective. Results from previous investigations that examined the psychological side effects of theophylline have been inconsistent, and none have reported about inhaled corticosteroids. The objective of this study was to assess the relative psychological side effects of theophylline and beclomethasone in asthmatic children.
Methods. This was a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, parallel-groups study in which 102 asthmatic patients were assigned to one of two treatments: beclomethasone three times daily or theophylline twice daily. At baseline, 1 month, and 1 year, parents completed standardized behavioral questionnaires while the children received psychometric testing of attention and concentration, memory and learning, and problem-solving.
Results. Although power was sufficient to detect meaningful mean score changes, no consistent differential treatment effects were observed. Two significant treatment-by-period interactions were discordant, with one suggesting slightly better attention in the theophylline group, whereas the other indicated a small advantage in attention scores in the beclomethasone group. Numerous significant period effects revealed that behavior and cognitive test performance improved over the 1-year period, regardless of treatment, and confirmed a well established practice effect resulting from repeated administrations of such tests.
Conclusions. Neither theophylline nor beclomethasone should be avoided out of concern for significant psychological side effects. The possibility remains that a subset of asthmatic children may be susceptible to such medication-induced changes; investigators have suggested that preschool children may be at particular risk, although no controlled studies with this age group have been conducted. Parental perceptions of medication side effects can be influenced by temporary effects present at initiation of treatment or by erroneous attribution of the psychological effects of the chronic illness. Reports of psychological changes in response to asthma medications must be addressed respectfully but objectively, with due consideration of available evidence and an awareness of other potential explanations.