Should people with asthma avoid aspirin?

Dr Mark Porter / 04 August 2017 ( 25 November 2019 )

Dr Mark Porter explains why some people with asthma need to avoid aspirin and ibuprofen.

Q: Why are people with asthma advised to avoid aspirin or ibuprofen?  I have had mild asthma since a child and have always been given this advice, but was recently seen in A&E after injuring my shoulder in a fall. I was prescribed an anti-inflammatory despite telling the doctor that I had asthma.

Not only did it help my shoulder, it also seemed to have no effect on my breathing.

A: Most people with asthma can take non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen, with impunity, but in around a third of cases the drugs can worsen their asthma.  I would imagine you are one of the lucky majority (hindsight is a wonderful thing).

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If someone with asthma is sensitive to NSAIDs then they are likely to develop cough and wheeze within a couple of hours of taking the drugs, and in some cases the exacerbations can be severe enough to warrant medical intervention - although in most cases the reaction is more troublesome than life threatening.  

Paracetamol is generally a safer option in people with asthma, particularly children (it too can occasionally trigger breathing problems although this is comparatively unusual).

Asthma: symptoms and treatment

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