Raising children is never an easy thing, especially when doctors and scientists do not agree about what is the right thing to do. Childhood asthma has been on the increase in the last 30 years and now more than nine million American kids are whizzing, coughing and depending on their inhalers in order to have normal life. Children with asthma are more often plagued with other health problems such as viral and bacterial infections and are more likely to need medication such as acetaminophen. But, the question is whether acetaminophen is making things worse and in fact increasing risk that the children will develop asthma.
The rapid raise in the number of asthma cases started in the early 1980s, about the same time when the scientists found the link between aspirin and Reye’s syndrome. Most doctors recommended that parents switch to acetaminophen. But, in 1998, a group of scientists from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine published the results of their study that shows the link between asthma and increased use of acetaminophen. Another large study, involving more than 200,000 children, conducted by scientists from the Akron Children”s Hospital in Ohio, confirmed these findings.
But, things are not as clear cut as it seems. The latest study of 411 Danish children shows that babies who were given acetaminophen have higher risk of developing asthma, but only until they reach the age of seven. After that, the risk is the same, whether the kids were given acetaminophen as babies or not.
The problem is that the scientists cannot find how exactly is acetaminophen causing asthma. Many other scientists believe that the other possible explanation is that children with asthma symptoms simply get more infections that require medication. One possible proof of this can be seen in the link between asthma and other medications such as ibuprofen.
Asthma is a chronic disease caused by inflammation of the bronchi, airways that lead the air to the lungs. When inflamed, airways narrow and tighten, blocking the air and causing difficulty breathing and characteristic wheezing, coughing and tightness in the chest.
Children can be free of symptoms for weeks and months, and then have an asthma attack after being exposed to an allergen, environmental irritant or have a respiratory infection. The triggers that cause asthma attack can change as the child grows up. Medication can also reduce the severity of symptoms or reduce sensitivity to particular allergens.
With the right treatment, asthma attacks can be completely eliminated or greatly reduced.
What can we do?
With the controversy over the potential risks for developing asthma with the use of acetaminophen, parents need to use a great deal of common sense. It would be counter-productive to completely stop using acetaminophen, but its use should be limited to the times when it is really needed, such as when kids have high fever. As soon as the kids start showing symptoms of asthma, even as very small babies, parents should consult their pediatrician in order to find what are the triggers. It is possible to eliminate many environmental triggers, such as pollutants and food allergens, smoke and household irritants. Good, balanced nutrition keeps child’s immune system strong and resistant to bacterial and viral infections, which often trigger asthma attacks or asthma-like symptoms. Pills should be the last resort, not the first thing we grab when our kid starts coughing and sneezing.