Paracetamol linked to asthma and reduced lung function

Scientists now suspect that regular use of the painkiller paracetamol, is linked with higher rates of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and reduced lung function.

According to a new study experiments in animals suggest that acetaminophen, paracetamol, might lower antioxidant activity in the lungs.

Dr. Tricia M. McKeever, at City Hospital in Nottingham, UK, and her associates say whether this experimental evidence translates to an effect on human respiratory disease is unclear. The team consequently evaluated data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), conducted between 1988 and 1994 in the US. Of the 13,492 subjects in the study, 6.9 percent had asthma, 11.8 percent had COPD and 2.8 percent had both respiratory illnesses.

Of the participants 4.3 percent reported that they used acetaminophen daily and another 8.2 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively, reported daily use of aspirin and ibuprofen.

The team found that the use of acetaminophen was linked with an increased risk of both asthma and COPD, and the risk increased in line with the dose taken. Among those using acetaminophen daily lung function was also lower. Taking aspirin or ibuprofen on a regular basis was not associated with respiratory illness.

The researchers say that the results do not necessarily mean that acetaminophen should be avoided but the potential risk of acetaminophen must be considered and the positive benefit and potential harm if the medication is substituted for another.

The study is published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, May 2005.

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