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Baby Acetaminophen Tied to Asthma

46% Increased Risk of Asthma With Baby Acetaminophen Use
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

What Causes Asthma

Sept. 18, 2008 - Babies who get acetaminophen -- Tylenol is one brand -- have an increased risk of childhood asthma.

Acetaminophen, often given to treat fevers in the first year of life, also upped the risk of eczema and having a runny nose and itchy eyes.

The finding, from an international study of 205,487 children in 31 countries, does not prove acetaminophen causes asthma, eczema, or nose/eye problems.

But it raises important safety concerns about the most commonly used drug in the U.S.: the fever-reducing painkiller acetaminophen (also known as paracetamol), the main ingredient in Tylenol.

People should think twice about using acetaminophen, but nobody should stop taking it or giving it to children with high fevers, says study leader Richard Beasley, DSc, a professor at the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand.

"[Acetaminophen] use might be a risk factor for the development of asthma in childhood. This issue urgently requires randomized controlled trials," Beasley tells WebMD in an email interview. "In the meantime, [acetaminophen] remains the preferred drug for relief of pain and fever in childhood, and for use by both children and adults with asthma."

Beasley recommends that parents give children acetaminophen only when they have a fever of more than 101 degrees Fahrenheit.

The study shows:

  • A 46% increased risk of asthma at ages 6-7 years in kids who got acetaminophen for fever in their first year of life.
  • A 48% increased risk of runny nose and red, itchy eyes at ages 6-7 in kids who got acetaminophen for fever in their first year of life.
  • A 35% increased risk of eczema at ages 6-7 in kids who got acetaminophen for fever in their first year of life.
  • A threefold higher risk of current asthma symptoms in 6- to 7-year-olds who took acetaminophen at least once a month compared with those who did not take the drug.
  • 22% of severe childhood asthma is linked to acetaminophen use during the first year of life.
  • 38% of severe childhood asthma is linked to acetaminophen use later in childhood.

 

Does Acetaminophen Cause Asthma?

The Beasley study, in which parents are asked to recall their use of acetaminophen after the fact, cannot prove acetaminophen causes asthma.

However, Beasley and colleagues note that there are several reasons to suspect this is so:

  • The link between acetaminophen and asthma is strong.
  • The more acetaminophen a child uses, the higher that child's risk of severe asthma.
  • Acetaminophen is linked to asthma in many different cultures with different medical practices.
  • Acetaminophen use came before asthma symptoms appeared.
  • Asthma prevalence shot up in the same years acetaminophen use became widespread.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Columbia University researcher R. Graham Barr, MD, DrPH, agrees with Beasley that while the study does not prove acetaminophen causes asthma, a clinical study is urgently needed.

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