Many people with asthma have sensitivities to certain drugs that can precipitate an asthma attack. If you have asthma, you need to be aware of which medications may be triggers. You do not need to avoid these medications unless you know they are asthma triggers for you. If these medications have never triggered your asthma, it is still best to take the medications with caution because a reaction can occur at any time.
Below is a list of the most common medications known to trigger symptoms of asthma. However, if you are prescribed any medication that you think may be causing your asthma to worsen, discuss it with your doctor.
Some asthma symptoms may develop days before breathing tests show a significant decrease in lung function. Yet, in some situations the symptoms develop suddenly. The most common symptoms of asthma or an attack include:
Coughing, especially at night or during exercise
Wheezing or losing your breath easily
Tightness in the chest
Runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, and other typical allergy or cold symptoms
Fatigue and weakness, especially during exercise
Aspirin and other painkillers. Approximately 10% to 20% of adults with asthma have sensitivity to aspirin or a group of painkillers called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs -- or NSAIDS -- such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn). These drugs are frequently used to treat pain and reduce fevers.
Asthma attacks caused by any of these medications can be severe and even fatal, so these drugs must be completely avoided in people who have known aspirin sensitive asthma. Products with acetaminophen such as Tylenol are considered a safer alternative for people known to have aspirin-sensitive asthma; however, some studies have linked asthma to use of acetaminophen in some people. It is important that people with aspirin sensitivity read labels of all over-the-counter drugs used to treat pain, colds and flu, and fever. Also inform your doctor so that these medications are not prescribed for you. If you have any questions whether a certain medication could trigger your asthma, seek advice from your health care provider.
Aspirin Sensitivity, Asthma, and Nasal Polyps. Some people with asthma cannot take aspirin or NSAIDs because of what’s known as Samter’s triad -- a combination of asthma, aspirin sensitivity, and nasal polyps. Nasal polyps are small growths that form inside the nasal cavity.
This aspirin sensitivity occurs in about 30% to 40% of those who have asthma and nasal polyps. Many people with Samter's triad have nasal symptoms, such as runny nose, postnasal drip, and congestion, along with asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, cough, and shortness of breath. Talk to your doctor about options other than aspirin and NSAIDs if you have this.
Beta-blockers. Beta-blockers are commonly prescribed medications used to treat numerous conditions including heart conditions, high blood pressure, migraine headache, and, in eye drop form, glaucoma. Your health care provider must determine the need for these medications and you can take a few trial doses to see if they affect your asthma. It is important that you inform all of your health care providers who may need to prescribe these types of medications that you have asthma. This includes your eye doctor.
ACE inhibitors. These are other types of medications used to treat heart disease and high blood pressure. These drugs can cause coughs in about 10% of the patients who use them. This cough is not necessarily asthma. But, it can be confused with asthma or, in the case of unstable airways, may trigger asthma symptoms. If you are prescribed an ACE inhibitor and develop a cough, speak with your doctor.