Acetaminophen Linked to Allergies? Docs Say Not So Fast

Parents may balk at giving their feverish children the standard dose of acetaminophen, after a new study released Thursday suggests that the popular pain reliever and fever reducer could be linked to the development of asthma and nasal allergies in children.

But many experts warn that the link the study draws between acetaminophen and allergies is not strong enough to warrant depriving your children of the pain reliever when they are in the throes of a fever.

Researchers from New Zealand looked at reports of more than 200,000 children in 31 countries to identify the possible link between acetaminophen-based pain relievers such as Tylenol in early childhood and the later development of asthma, nasal allergies and eczema in children.

They found that children who received acetaminophen-based pain relievers for fever in the first year of life were 46 percent more likely to develop asthma by age 6 or 7 compared with infants not treated with such a fever reducer.

Moreover, children who were still given acetaminophen-based painkillers by age 6 were three times as likely to have severe asthma symptoms.

But even the researchers themselves acknowledge in their report that "the association might have been confounded by other factors that determine the risk of developing childhood asthma or use of [acetaminophen]."

Other experts strongly urge emphasis on this line in the study's report, citing that this research does not go far enough to prove such a link.

"Asthma has been linked now with hundreds of things and this is just another hypothesis based on epidemiologic data which is not very reliable," said Dr. Richard Lockey, director of the division of allergy and immunology at the University of South Florida College of Medicine. "I seriously doubt that there is a link."

Experts were also quick to point out that this study focused on a drug called paracetamol, which is a slightly different drug than the usual formulations of acetaminophen sold in the United States.

"This is a variant of acetaminophen with perhaps different effects," said Dr. Clifford Bassett, assistant clinical professor of medicine and otolaryngology at the Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y.

And according to Dr. Anita Gewurz, professor in the section of allergy and immunology at Rush University Medical Center, the study contains serious methodological flaws.

"The investigators found suggestive -- not definitive -- results, but only after they modified the original study design after the investigation was begun," Gewurz explained.

Additionally, Gewurz pointed out that the findings should be taken with a grain of salt, as the amount of acetaminophen given to the children involved in this research was evaluated by way of the parent's self-reports rather than any scientific measure.

Acetaminophen Still Deserves Attention, Doctors Say

But despite the flaws in this research, some experts believe these findings still warrant further study to prove a definitive link -- or lack thereof -- between acetaminophen and asthma and allergies in children.

"It is a baffling and thought-provoking study and it appears an association may exist, but it is preliminary," said Bassett. "I would not draw firm and long-term conclusions on its usage."

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