Some people are truly allergic to aspirin. Others have what doctors call a non-allergic sensitivity to it. That means when they take the drug, they have symptoms -- sometimes dangerous ones -- but they don’t have an allergy.
People with this condition sometimes have problems with other similar meds for pain. These common medications are part of a group called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. Common examples include:
What Are the Symptoms?
When you take one of the drugs listed above, you might notice:
What Is Samter's Triad?
- Reactions to aspirin and NSAIDs
- Asthma or bronchospasm triggered by taking aspirin or a NSAID.
- Growths in your nasal passages, called polyps, that can cause problems with your sinuses
Experts aren't sure why these problems show up together. About 3% to 5% of people with asthma have aspirin sensitivity. Samter's triad is more common in women. Symptoms often start when you’re in your 30s.
Along with lasting stuffiness, you’ll notice watery eyes, a cough, and other problems. You might lose your sense of smell. Some people have sudden, severe asthma attacks that can be triggered by alcohol consumption and require emergency treatment.
How to Manage Aspirin Problems
Don’t take it or other NSAIDs. If you have asthma and nasal polyps, your doctor will tell you to avoid specific NSAIDs. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a safe alternative.
Keep an eye out for aspirin. Look for it in unexpected places. Lots of remedies for colds, the flu, coughs, stomach problems, and other conditions contain it or another NSAID. You may even find it in cosmetics, soap, shampoos, and skin cleaners.
Change your diet. Some foods have high levels of salicylates, natural chemicals that are the main ingredients in aspirin. It may help to cut back on these foods -- like some fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee, and tea. Ask your doctor.
Consider treatment. You can try a process called desensitization. You’ll start off taking small doses of aspirin and work your way up to more. Your doctor will watch you closely for reactions. If it works, you may be able to take aspirin without problems -- as long as you keep taking it daily. This can help ease asthma and sinus symptoms, too.
Remove nasal polyps. If they’re a problem, your doctor may suggest surgery. Keep in mind that they can grow back.