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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.

The Pros and Cons of Pain-Relief Drugs continued...

ASPIRIN
Bayer, Bufferin, Ecotrin (and also an ingredient in Excedrin)

  • How it works. Aspirin is an NSAID that circulates through your bloodstream. It blocks the effects of chemicals that increase the feeling of pain.

  • Benefits. Aspirin has earned its reputation as a "wonder drug." It eases pain and lowers fevers. It can also reduce inflammation, which means that it can treat the symptom (pain) and sometimes the cause (swelling.)

    Aspirin also lowers the risk of blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes, particularly in people at high risk of these problems. Usually, only very low daily doses -- 81 milligrams, or one baby aspirin -- are recommended for cardiovascular protection. Other NSAIDs (like ibuprofen, ketoprofen, or naproxen) and acetaminophen do not have this effect. However, you should never start taking aspirin daily without talking with your health care provider first.

  • Side effects and risks. Aspirin can cause serious reactions in up to 20% of people with asthma. Symptoms include coughing and wheezing. If you have a reaction, get medical care right away. Afterward, do not use aspirin -- or any other NSAID -- without your doctor's permission. Some people may also develop hives and facial swelling.

    Aspirin can cause heartburn, upset stomach, pain, or ulcers even in very low doses. Aspirin can be dangerous for people with liver disease, gout, juvenile arthritis, or rheumatic fever. Rarely, aspirin can cause ringing in the ears and hearing loss.

    Pregnant women shouldn't use aspirin since it can harm the mother and cause birth defects. Unless your health care provider says it's OK, children and teenagers should not take aspirin or aspirin-containing medications during a viral disease because it puts them at risk of Reye's syndrome.

    While inflammation can cause pain, it's often a key part of the body's natural healing process. Since this medicine at high doses can prevent inflammation, it can also slow down recovery after certain injuries.

IBUPROFEN
Advil, Motrin IB, Nuprin

  • How it works. Like all NSAIDs, ibuprofen blocks the effects of chemicals that increase the feeling of pain.

  • Benefits. Ibuprofen can lower fevers, ease pain, and reduce inflammation.

  • Side effects and risks. People with asthma should not use ibuprofen if they have an alternative. In one out of five people with asthma, it can cause worsening symptoms, which may need immediate treatment. If you have a bad reaction to ibuprofen, you should not use it or any other NSAID without your doctor's permission. Some people may develop hives and facial swelling.

    Ibuprofen can cause heartburn, upset stomach, pain, and ulcers. It may also increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The FDA requires drug companies to highlight ibuprofen's potential risks. This drug isn't safe during the last three months of pregnancy.

    In some cases, ibuprofen can slow down the body's natural healing process.

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