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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Do painkillers put children at risk for asthma?

Joe Graedon And Teresa Graedon King Features Syndicate

For most of the 20th century, pediatricians and parents preferred aspirin for lowering fevers and easing pain in children. But in 1980, a report linked aspirin to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal childhood disease.

Although aspirin manufacturers resisted adding a warning, the evidence became strong enough that the Food and Drug Administration required a change to the label in 1986.

Acetaminophen became the drug of choice to lower a child’s fever.

Ever since then, the rate of childhood asthma has been rising. In 2008, a study published in The Lancet revealed an association between administration of acetaminophen during infancy and development of asthma by age 6 or 7. Those who were given the pain reliever as often as once a month had triple the background risk of developing allergy-related wheezing. (This analysis also found a link to nasal allergies and eczema.) Now an article in the journal Pediatrics (Dec. 1) takes a stronger position. Dr. John McBride is a pediatric pulmonologist who declares, “Considering currently available data, I now recommend that any child with asthma or a family history of asthma avoid using acetaminophen.”

Such a precaution also might apply to pregnant women. Researchers in New Zealand, where acetaminophen is called paracetamol, analyzed data from six studies (Clinical and Experimental Allergy, April). The investigators concluded: “The use of paracetamol during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of childhood asthma.”

Some pediatricians and allergists feel that there is not yet enough data to justify a prohibition. McBride disagrees. He told The New York Times: “If studies prove that acetaminophen makes asthma worse, I can’t imagine telling my patients that I knew about this five years ago, but I wasn’t sure so I didn’t mention it.”