Feature Archive

Everyday Pain Relief: Asthma

Many common over-the-counter pain relief drugs can cause harmful side effects, such as breathing problems, for those with asthma. Here's what you need to know.

By R. Morgan Griffin
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

If you have asthma, you most likely work hard to avoid triggers. You shut the windows when the air is thick with pollen. You steer clear of homes with pets. You banish smokers to your front porch.

But did you know that a potentially serious asthma trigger might be sitting in your medicine cabinet right now?

The culprit is aspirin, that trusted wonder drug, along with other common over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers. These are medicines we use without thinking twice. But in one in five people with asthma, these drugs can make symptoms worsen. They can even cause dangerous or even fatal reactions.

"It happens a lot more than people realize," says Phillip E. Korenblat, MD, spokesman for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. "If you went to any ER right now, you'd be likely to see people with asthma who were there because of a bad reaction to these drugs."

The problem doesn't end with OTC painkillers. In fact, many remedies for colds, sinus problems, and even indigestion contain the same potentially dangerous ingredients.

So before you grab a bottle of pain reliever for that headache, you need to learn some dos and don'ts.