Hundreds of thousands of children with asthma and allergies find relief, even lifesaving treatment, from inhaled steroids. Now studies are finding the drugs also may slow some children's growth, and doctors are wrestling with what to tell parents.

There's no proof that these children will be shorter adults - their growth could catch up. Research simply hasn't lasted long enough to tell, or to predict that even if final height is stunted, that it would be more than, say, an inch.The drugs are critical to many children - they have revolutionized asthma care - so nobody wants youngsters to stop taking them.

But at the urging of lung specialists, more children than ever before are inhaling the medicines, starting at younger ages and lasting throughout childhood. So the Food and Drug Administration is struggling with how to explain the possible side effect without unduly alarming people. It also wants to find out exactly how big a concern it really is.

"We in no way are trying to frighten clinicians or parents," stressed Dr. John Jenkins, FDA's pulmonary drugs chief. The goal is "to promote the safest use of these drugs."