Children whose mothers took certain asthma drugs during pregnancy may have a slightly increased risk of autism, a new study suggests.
The study, published online Jan. 6 in Pediatrics, found a connection between autism risk and prenatal exposure to drugs called beta-agonists. They are most often used to control asthma, and include inhaled medications such as albuterol, salmeterol (Serevent) and formoterol (Foradil).
Researchers said the findings do not prove cause and effect, and stressed that women with asthma should not simply abandon their medication during pregnancy.
For the new study, Gidaya's team combed through Denmark's system of national databases to find information on 5,200 children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The researchers compared them with 52,000 children of the same age without autism.
Overall, just under 4 percent of children with autism had been exposed to a beta-agonist, versus just under 3 percent of other kids.
When the researchers controlled for other factors — including mothers' asthma, parents' age and birth complications — children exposed to beta-agonists in the womb were still 30 percent more likely to develop autism.
But while that number might sound big, it is actually a "modest" increase in autism risk, Dawson said.