Paracetamol can almost double the risk of asthma in children, warns study
Researchers found a link between babies who had regularly been given paracetamol and those who developed asthma by the age of 18.
Giving babies and toddlers paracetamol may almost double their risk of developing asthma before they turn 18, warns a new study on the link between paracetamol and asthma in children.
Paracetamol (like Calpol), is commonly recommended by doctors to treat many childhood illnesses, like fever, headache, stomach ache, ear ache etc.
The research, carried out at the University of Melbourne, Australia, studied 620 children from birth to the age of 18, as part of the Melbourne Atopy Cohort Study. Researchers found a link between babies who had regularly been given paracetamol and those who developed asthma by the age of 18.
They also found that children given paracetamol in their first two years of life may be at greater risk of asthma by adulthood. The chances are greater if they have a particular genetic makeup.
The study revealed revealed startling results in children with a particular variant of the glutathione S-transferase (GST) gene, GSTP1. The risk of asthma was 1.8 times higher when they were given paracetamol regularly.
Researchers say that paracetamol “consumes” an enzyme crucial for clearing up toxins in the lungs.
"Paracetamol consumes glutathione, reducing the body's capacity to deal with toxic exposure," said Xin Dai, who led the research at the University of Melbourne.
"Our findings provide more evidence that paracetamol use in infancy may have an adverse effect on respiratory health for children with particular genetic profiles and could be a possible cause of asthma."
Xin urges caution. Though the study shows a link between paracetamol and asthma in children, it does not prove that paracetamol causes asthma.
The research has its fair share of doubters though.
Neil Pearce, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says, "The idea that paracetamol use early in life may increase the risk of developing asthma has been around for about 20 years. It has been extraordinarily difficult to prove or disprove.
"The problem is that children are not given paracetamol early in life for no reason. They are often given it because they have respiratory infection. It may be the infection which increases the risk of asthma, not the paracetamol."
"The picture is further complicated because these children are often also given antibiotics, which is also a possible risk factor for developing asthma," he added.
While Dr June Raine, Director of Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicines Division, said: “Paracetamol is safe and effective for treating pain and fever for a range of conditions when used correctly. People are advised to consult their doctor if their symptoms continue."