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Asthma Health Center

Everyday Pain Relief: Asthma

Many common over-the-counter pain relief drugs can cause harmful side effects, such as breathing problems, for people with asthma. Here's what you need to know.
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Other Options for Pain Relief

Of course, painkillers aren't the only answer for many of life's aches and pains. Many effective and safe alternatives don't have any side effects at all.

  • Ice packs, for acute injuries like a sprained ankle, can keep down swelling and ease pain.
  • Heat -- with a hot towel or heating pad -- can be helpful for treating chronic overuse injuries. (However, you shouldn't use heat on recent injuries.)
  • Physical activity can help reduce some kinds of discomfort, such as arthritis pain.
  • Relaxation -- with techniques like yoga or meditation -- may reduce pain. Biofeedback may help as well. These approaches are best for pain that's made worse by stress, like tension headaches.
  • Nontraditional techniques with low risks -- like acupuncture -- benefit some people.

So remember: Pain relief doesn't only come from a pill bottle.

The Pros and Cons of Pain-Relief Drugs

For those times when you do need a dose of pain relief, you need to make a smart choice. Here's a rundown of the benefits and risks of some popular pain medications. It should help simplify your choices the next time you're in the drugstore.

Keep in mind that you shouldn't use any over-the-counter painkiller on a regular basis. If you're in that much pain, you need to talk with your health care provider.

ACETAMINOPHEN
Tylenol, Panadol, Tempra
(and also an ingredient in Excedrin)

  • How it works. Acetaminophen is not an NSAID. Experts aren't actually sure how it works, but it seems to affect chemicals that increase the feeling of pain.

  • Benefits. Acetaminophen reduces pain and lowers fevers. Unlike aspirin and other NSAIDS, acetaminophen seems to be safer for people with asthma.

    Acetaminophen is also less likely to cause gastrointestinal problems than NSAIDs. It is safe for women who are pregnant and nursing.

  • Side effects and risks. Experts generally believe that acetaminophen -- taken occasionally and as prescribed -- is safe for people with asthma. However, some recent studies have shown a possible connection between regular use of acetaminophen and an increased risk and worsening of asthma. Since the evidence isn't clear, you should ask your health care provider for advice.

    Very high doses of acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Long-term use of acetaminophen in high doses -- especially when combined with caffeine (Excedrin) or codeine (Tylenol with Codeine) can cause kidney disease.

    Acetaminophen doesn't reduce swelling, which aspirin and other NSAIDs do. It may be less helpful in treating pain that's caused by inflammation, such as some types of arthritis.

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