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Tip Sheet: Asthma and Pain Relievers

If you have asthma, take over-the-counter pain relief medications with care and keep these tips in mind.
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If you have asthma, you need to be very careful with over-the-counter pain medicines. Remember: No drug is risk-free. Here are some tips from the experts for using these medicines safely.

  • Avoid Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) if possible. If you have asthma, try to stay away from NSAIDs -- aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and ketoprofen, for example. Even if you have never had a problem with them before, it's possible to develop one later in life. Phillip E. Korenblat, MD, spokesman for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology says that a non-NSAID pain reliever, like acetaminophen, is a safer choice.

  • If you are at high risk, do not use an NSAID. If you have had a bad reaction to one of these drugs -- aspirin, ibuprofen, ketoprofen, or naproxen sodium -- you're likely to have a similar reaction to the others. People who have sinus problems or nasal polyps as well as asthma are at much higher risk of having a dangerous reaction.

  • Watch for symptoms. If you take an NSAID and your asthma symptoms get worse -- or if you develop hives or facial swelling -- get medical help right away.

  • Use as directed. Follow dosage directions carefully. Most painkillers shouldn't be used for more than 10 days. If you're still in pain by that point, see your health care provider.

  • Avoid alcohol. Most over-the-counter pain relievers do not mix with alcohol. If you take an NSAID, including aspirin, just one drink a week can increase your risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. People who have three or more drinks a day should not use these medicines. Combining acetaminophen and alcohol may increase the risk of liver damage.

  • Read the package insert. Admit it: When you buy a bottle of over-the-counter pain reliever, you throw out the printed insert along with the empty box. But you really should get in the habit of reading it. Find out what side effects you should look for. Look at the list of possible drug interactions.

  • Read the ingredients of all medicines. Painkillers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen can show up in the most unlikely places. For instance, many over-the-counter medicines for colds or even heartburn also contain some amount of a pain reliever. Make sure you know what you're getting.

  • Tell your doctor about all medicines, herbs, and supplements that you use. Interactions are a real danger. So your health care provider needs to know about all the medicines you take before you're prescribed a new medicine. Don't forget to mention over-the-counter medicines, herbal remedies, and vitamins.

    "Bring a list of all the medicines and supplements you take to your doctor," says Nieca Goldberg, MD, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. "It could actually save your life."

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