There has been much debate surrounding the dramatic increase of asthma in the United States and throughout the world over past several decades.
A study released by a group of researchers from New Zealand published in the September 20, 2008 issue of the The Lancetfound an association between paracetamol use in infancy (known as acetaminophen in the U.S., and a very commonly used non-aspirin containing analgesic) and childhood risk of asthma, allergy and eczema in children at 6-7 years. The authors suggested the use of this commonly prescribed pain reliever and fever reducer might be a risk factor for the development of childhood asthma.
There has been an increased use of these non-aspirin containing analgesics over the past five decades, especially in children. Additionally, the researchers reported those children that were given more frequent doses were more likely to develop asthma on a risk adjusted basis.
It is important to note that approximately, and this is just an estimate, about 10 percent of adults and children with asthma find aspirin and non-steriod anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) actually worsen their asthma. Aspirin "intolerance" appears to be more common in those patients with moderate to severe asthma, particularly individuals that also have nasal polyps and sinus disease.
Another study reported in the journal Thoraxfound at least in adult women that aspirin may reduce asthma risk. The authors cautioned their findings were "still not enough to recommend taking aspirin regularly." Separately, the incidence of asthma is increasing and other asthma researchers believe another cause for this possibly is an association with obesity and dietary factors.
In any event I have not observed any issues with acetaminophen analgesics in our allergy and asthma patient population when used in appropriate dosages and for the correct reasons. Obviously more work and further studies are needed to explain the explosion of new cases of asthma, both in adults and children.
Dr. Clifford W. Bassett is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the Long Island College Hospital and on the faculty of NYU School of Medicine.He is the current vice chair for public education committee of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.