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Common painkillers increase the risk of asthma

I know that the number of people with asthma is increasing in the world. 

Here in Australia, asthma is often on the news as we have one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the world. Unfortunately, asthma still kills and is responsible for 1 out of every 250 deaths worldwide.

Many studies I have reviewed connect asthma with weather, pollution, weight and exercise. Now a large study has shown that there is a strong link between asthma and taking common painkillers.

The researchers confirmed that using the painkiller acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, was linked with the developing of asthma and wheezing in children and adults of up to 75%!

Understanding what asthma is

I found this video animation which really helped me to understand asthma. It even explains how the ‘wheezing sound’ is made (it’s a whistle!). This great video clearly shows what happens to a persons airways during an asthma attack.

Thanks to tomsweisiong for use of this asthma animation.

The asthma and painkiller study

Canadian researchers reviewed 19 asthma studies involving over 425,000 children and adults. They found that the risk of asthma increased by:

  • 60% in children who were given acetaminophen the year before.
  • 75% in adults who used acetaminophen compared to those who did not.   

Acetaminophen is a common fever-reducing painkiller that is sold world wide. It has been used in the USA over 60 years. You would know it most commonly as Tylenol who sell more than $1 billion a year worldwide.

Don’t throw out your painkillers yet!

The study does not necessarily mean that acetaminophen causes asthma. It may be that people who suffer illnesses and fevers treated with acetaminophen are more prone to asthma. However, the study does show a significant connection between acetaminophen use and asthma. What did the researchers say?

In conclusion the researchers wrote: “The results of our review are consistent with an increase in the risk of asthma and wheezing in both children and adults exposed to acetaminophen. Future studies are needed to confirm these results.”

The study was published by scientists at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute scientists in the Journal CHEST by the Chest Foundation.

Does acetaminophen worsen your asthma?

It would be interesting to track asthma symptoms when taking painkillers. If this study rings true for you or your children, I would love to hear how taking painkillers affects your asthma. Please leave a comment below!


7 Responses to “Common painkillers have been linked to increased risk of asthma”

  1. Steve says:

    I think I will stay away from acetaminophen. Since Ibuprofen does bad things to my blood pressure, that only leaves me aspirin as a pain killer. Fortunately aspirin seems to have positive side effects.

  2. KHogen says:

    Thanks Kellie for the information!

  3. KellieMyHS says:

    Thank you Khogen! Asthma is on the increase around the world and although it is linked to many things like pollution and weight, it still doesn’t have a real cause.
    I thought this study showed a significant enough link to acetaminophen that there may be something in it!

  4. John S says:

    The asthma epidemic is also thought to be attributed to (1) the fat phobia (at least in the USA) that has changed our diet to a lower fat diet especially low in saturated fats and (2)low levels of vitamin A. Vit A is needed for normal function of all mucous membranes and saturated fats are used to make the natural surfactants in the lungs also needed for proper function. So don’t feed your kids non-fat milk! Another problem is over consumption of omega-6 fats in comparison to omega-3s. In other words the Western diet promotes inflammation. Saturated fat has gotten a bum wrap from its association with trans fat.

    Here’s a link to a book by Mary Enig a fat expert who has no association with the food industry and does not depend on grants:

    Also, for exercise induced asthma Vit C seems to help.

    • John S says:

      I just saw this video (link below) regarding asthma. Like almost all chronic degenerative inflammatory based diseases of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, asthma appears to be a diet based malady. The over consumption of omega-6 essential fatty acids (primarily from vegetable oils and meats from animals that are fed grains) and under consumption of omega-3 fatty acids are responsible for producing inflammation. I’m not really a fan of Dr. Mercola but I think he is correct in his assessment of asthma. Like in my earlier post the low fat eating recommendations also contributes to asthma.

      Relating to the alleged pain killer association to asthma I would give little weight to that study. One – people who haven’t taken acetominophen in a year are probably more healthy than someone who does and therefore less likely to have asthma. Two – in children acetominiphen is the painkiller/antipyretic of choice because of the association of Reyes Syndrome and aspirin which makes it likely that a high percentage of children will have taken acetominophen in the past year.

  5. Nicole says:

    I’ve been an asthmatic all my life (I’m now 29) and have learned to recognise the types of triggers that will set off an attack (eg. cat hair, dust etc.) In my own personal experience, I’ve had serious asthmatic reactions to Panadol, Herron and Nurofen. Since I don’t often take painkillers, I didn’t immediately recognise these as the cause for the attacks. After several incidents, however, it became clear! With Herron and Panadol, the symptoms are usually acute for the length the tablet is in effect (approx 4 hours). With Nurofen, the symptoms last for around 24 hours. Needless to say, I now stay well away from paracetamol and ibuprofen!

  6. John S says:

    I just re-read the above article and it does not say that acetaminophen or any other painkiller “triggers” an asthma attack. It just says that children who have taken acetaminophen in the prior year are more likely to have asthma. That to me doesn’t really say much of anything. The same might very well be true for kids who have eaten peanuts. Like I said before asthmatics are more sickly and are more likely to have been given acetaminophen so of course they would be more likely to have received acetaminophen than healthy children. There is no “cause and effect” proven by that study. I wouldn’t worry about it.

bottom KellieMyHS

About Kellie

Kellie is 37 years old and together with her brother Steve makes up the My Health Software team.

She helps on the websites and gathering news for the programs. Kellie worked in the medical industry prior to having her two children (8 and 6) and has a strong interest in self awareness and management of health conditions.


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