Times of Malta.
Children who are given unnecessary doses of paracetamol in their first year of life run a higher risk of developing asthma, allergic rhinitis and eczema later in life, a study co-authored by a Maltese physician has found.
Moreover, six- and seven year-olds who take paracetamol at least once a month have a three-fold increase in the risk of developing wheezing.
The study of 200,000 children from 31 countries, but not including Malta, analysed the association between the use of the common painkiller in the first year of life and the risk of asthma, allergic rhinitis and eczema.
It found that infants given paracetamol had a 50 per cent increased risk of developing asthma by the time they turned six or seven. The study, which is the largest epidemiological research of childhood allergies, was carried out as part of the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood and published in the renowned medical journal The Lancet.
Although paracetamol is considered to be the best drug for sick children, it is being used far too frequently, which could be dangerous, said Stephen Montefort, local consultant respiratory physician and one of the paper’s authors. “In many countries, including Malta, people have a habit of using the drug at the first sign of illness, even though it should only be used when one is running a temperature of more than 38.5 degrees Celsius,” he said.
The study was based on a questionnaire sent to parents on the use of paracetamol for fever during their children’s first year of life and current use.
Prof. Montefort explained that paracetamol was known to decrease an important antioxidant, which had anti-inflammatory effects, and this could be the reason behind the link between the use of the drug and asthma.
However, he said, paracetamol did not trigger asthma attacks in known sufferers and was safe to be used:
“Paracetamol is still the preferred drug for asthmatics due to the risk that aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can provoke attacks.”
He said the study’s limitations were that it was retrospective and dependent on parents’ memory of their children’s paracetamol use after a number of years.
“Further research, including random controlled trials into the long-term effects of frequent paracetamol use, is urgently required,” he said.
Malta has a high rate of asthma sufferers, with studies showing that asthma and rhinitis in seven-year-olds increased by 50 per cent between 1994 and 2001. The prevalence of wheezing has tripled between 1985 and 2001.
“We still have among the highest rates of asthma in Europe and the highest in the Mediterranean,” he said.
(UCA Website Jan 2011)