Asthma: Everyday Pain Relief (cont.)

Other Options for Pain Relief

Of course, painkillers aren't the only answer for many of life's aches and pains. Many effective and safe alternatives don't have any side effects at all.

  • Ice packs, for acute injuries like a sprained ankle, can keep down swelling and ease pain.
  • Heat -- with a hot towel or heating pad -- can be helpful for treating chronic overuse injuries. (However, you shouldn't use heat on recent injuries.)
  • Physical activity can help reduce some kinds of discomfort, such as arthritis pain.
  • Relaxation -- with techniques like yoga or meditation -- may reduce pain. Biofeedback may help as well. These approaches are best for pain that's made worse by stress, like tension headaches.
  • Nontraditional techniques with low risks -- like acupuncture -- benefit some people.

So remember: Pain relief doesn't only come from a pill bottle.

The Pros and Cons of Pain-Relief Drugs

For those times when you do need a dose of pain relief, you need to make a smart choice. Here's a rundown of the benefits and risks of some popular pain medications. It should help simplify your choices the next time you're in the drugstore.

Keep in mind that you shouldn't use any over-the-counter painkiller on a regular basis. If you're in that much pain, you need to talk with your health care provider.

ACETAMINOPHEN
Tylenol, Panadol, Tempra
(and also an ingredient in Excedrin)

  • How it works. Acetaminophen is not an NSAID. Experts aren't actually sure how it works, but it seems to affect chemicals that increase the feeling of pain.

  • Benefits. Acetaminophen reduces pain and lowers fevers. Unlike aspirin and other NSAIDS, acetaminophen seems to be safer for people with asthma.

    Acetaminophen is also less likely to cause gastrointestinal problems than NSAIDs. It is safe for women who are pregnant and nursing.

  • Side effects and risks. Experts generally believe that acetaminophen -- taken occasionally and as prescribed -- is safe for people with asthma. However, some recent studies have shown a possible connection between regular use of acetaminophen and an increased risk and worsening of asthma. Since the evidence isn't clear, you should ask your health care provider for advice.

    Very high doses of acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Long-term use of acetaminophen in high doses -- especially when combined with caffeine (Excedrin) or codeine (Tylenol with Codeine) can cause kidney disease.

    Acetaminophen doesn't reduce swelling, which aspirin and other NSAIDs do. It may be less helpful in treating pain that's caused by inflammation, such as some types of arthritis.

ASPIRIN
Bayer, Bufferin, Ecotrin (and also an ingredient in Excedrin)

  • How it works. Aspirin is an NSAID that circulates through your bloodstream. It blocks the effects of chemicals that increase the feeling of pain.

  • Benefits. Aspirin has earned its reputation as a "wonder drug." It eases pain and lowers fevers. It can also reduce inflammation, which means that it can treat the symptom (pain) and sometimes the cause (swelling.)

    Aspirin also lowers the risk of blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes, particularly in people at high risk of these problems. Usually, only very low daily doses -- 81 milligrams, or one baby aspirin -- are recommended for cardiovascular protection. Other NSAIDs (like ibuprofen, ketoprofen, or naproxen) and acetaminophen do not have this effect. However, you should never start taking aspirin daily without talking with your health care provider first.

  • Side effects and risks. Aspirin can cause serious reactions in up to 20% of people with asthma. Symptoms include coughing and wheezing. If you have a reaction, get medical care right away. Afterward, do not use aspirin -- or any other NSAID -- without your doctor's permission. Some people may also develop hives and facial swelling.

    Aspirin can cause heartburn, upset stomach, pain, or ulcers even in very low doses. Aspirin can be dangerous for people with liver disease, gout, juvenile arthritis, or rheumatic fever. Rarely, aspirin can cause ringing in the ears and hearing loss.

    Pregnant women shouldn't use aspirin since it can harm the mother and cause birth defects. Unless your health care provider says it's OK, children and teenagers should not take aspirin because it puts them at risk of Reye's syndrome.

    While inflammation can cause pain, it's often a key part of the body's natural healing process. Since this medicine at high doses can prevent inflammation, it can also slow down recovery after certain injuries.

IBUPROFEN
Advil, Motrin IB, Nuprin

  • How it works. Like all NSAIDs, ibuprofen blocks the effects of chemicals that increase the feeling of pain.

  • Benefits. Ibuprofen can lower fevers, ease pain, and reduce inflammation.

  • Side effects and risks. People with asthma should not use ibuprofen if they have an alternative. In one out of five people with asthma, it can cause worsening symptoms, which may need immediate treatment. If you have a bad reaction to ibuprofen, you should not use it or any other NSAID without your doctor's permission. Some people may develop hives and facial swelling.

    Ibuprofen can cause heartburn, upset stomach, pain, and ulcers. It may also increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The FDA requires drug companies to highlight ibuprofen's potential risks. This drug isn't safe during the last three months of pregnancy.

    In some cases, ibuprofen can slow down the body's natural healing process.