What did the media report?
The media reported that use of paracetamol in babies increases the risk of developing asthma five years later, and also that regular use of the drug in adults can spark the condition.
What did the research show?
The stories are based on two international studies, one published in the Lancet and the other online in the European Respiratory Journal.
In the former paper, researchers from the ISAAC study looked at more than 200,000 children, aged six to seven years old, from 31 countries. Parents were surveyed about any symptoms of asthma or allergy in their children, as well as use of paracetamol during the first year of life and during the last 12 months.
They found children given paracetamol in first year of life were 1.46 times more likely to have asthma symptoms by aged six or seven than those not given the drug. Those aged six and seven who had been given paracetamol at least once during the previous 12 months were 1.61 times more likely to show asthma symptoms, while those given the drug at least once a month were 3.23 times more likely to show symptoms.
In the GA2LEN-SARI study, researchers across Europe compared the frequency of analgesic use over a year in 521 asthma patients and 507 controls. Subjects were aged between 20 and 45. The adjusted odds ratio for asthma associated with weekly use of paracetamol, compared with less frequent use, was 2.87 – almost a three-fold increase in relative risk, though no absolute risk data was available. No link was seen between asthma risk and other analgesics taken.
What did the researchers say?
The ISAAC authors said: ‘We suggest that exposure to paracetamol might be a risk-factor for the development of asthma in childhood. We stress the findings do not constitute a reason to stop using paracetamol in childhood.’
GA2LEN author Dr Seif Shaheen, senior clinical lecturer in Epidemiology at Imperial College London, added: ‘Considering asthma is a common disease and paracetamol use is frequent, it is now important to find out whether this association is really a causal one. A clinical trial may be the only way to answer this question conclusively.’
What does this mean for nursing practice?
Leanne Male, assistant director of research at Asthma UK, said: ‘There is now a wealth of research evidence from all over the world indicating there may be a link between the use of paracetamol at various stages of life and an increased risk of developing asthma and other allergic conditions.
‘If we can establish the mechanisms behind how paracetamol might affect it, this could go some way towards helping to prevent the condition in the first place,’ she added.
Lancet (2008) 372: 1039-1048