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Paracetamol Increases Risk of Asthma in Babies

Pregnant women may need to rethink taking paracetamol for pain relief as Pregnant women may need to rethink taking paracetamol for pain relief as research has shown modest associations with taking paracetamol during pregnancy with a risk of developing asthma in the infant/child.

185Worryingly the research also indicated that babies who were given paracetamol in the first 6 months of life were almost a third more likely to develop asthma.

The British study (using Norwegian data) involved tracking children until the age of seven from almost 115,000 pregnancies.

This research provides an important insight as paracetamol is the most commonly used analgesic/anti fever among pregnant women and infants. Uncovering potential adverse effects is of public health importance.


Key Results:

  • A strong association of asthma development by age three was seen when a mother used paracetamol during pregnancy for more than one illness, and when the babies in infanthood were dosed with paracetamol.
  • The use of paracetamol during pregnancy increased the risk of asthma development by almost 13 per cent.
  • Children who were given paracetamol during infancy were 29 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with asthma by the age of three, with a similar rate at age seven.


The Paracetamol Connection

This study revealed the possible reason that paracetamol led to children developing asthma was because it can induce ‘oxidative stress’ leading to an allergic response due to TH2 cell involvement.

T-cells are a major type of immune cell (lymphocytes) that work to seek and destroy specific immune threats (foreign substances, infectious organisms for example)  and once they have been recognised in the body they become part of our adaptive immune defence system.

However when the balance between TH1 and TH2 cell activity is lost, and one type becomes dominant, health problems such as allergies (usually associated with TH2 dominance) occur.

The research paper quoted studies which reported an inverse association between maternal antioxidant intake during pregnancy and asthma in her children.

Researchers believe this immune dysfunction may be due in part to a depletion of the essential antioxidant, glutathione as a result of paracetamol use.


Comment from the National Asthma Council Australia

Despite these results Dr Jonathan Burdon from the National Asthma Council Australia said pregnant women and mothers should not be alarmed by the research, and that no new guidelines would take place for paracetamol just yet.

“The study is interesting, because paracetamol is so commonly used during pregnancy… “the general feeling about paracetamol is that it’s safe to use during pregnancy, but with any other medication during that time, we recommend taking it only when needed.” Dr Burdon stated


Final Word

As parents it is tempting to reach for the paracetamol when we see our children in pain or have a fever.

Likewise during pregnancy when our bodies are experiencing changes and growth that it hasn’t experienced before, reaching for pain relief is understandable.

However increasing research is surfacing that orthodox pain relief such as paracetamol is not only ineffective but may actually be creating oxidative stress leading to conditions such as asthma in babies and young children.

The next time mums to be or parents reach for the paracetamol, think about these potential ramifications and reconsider whether there may be other less harmful options.


Further Reading:


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