Aspirin has been a mainstay in treating pain and inflammation since it was isolated from willow tree bark in the 1800s. Since then, many NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen and naproxen have provided pain relief. But for those in the minority with aspirin and NSAID allergies, different treatment options become vital to attaining relief.
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Aspirin and NSAID Allergy
Since aspirin and NSAIDs are common medications, it is important to know if you have an allergy to these treatments. An allergic reaction usually occurs within a couple hours of taking the medication and can range from mild to serious. Reactions may include:
Skin: redness, swelling of lips and tongue, hives, itching
Respiratory tract: runny nose, coughing, wheezing and asthma-like symptoms, difficulty breathing
Anaphylaxis: generalized body reaction with above symptoms and decrease in blood pressure
Aspirin and NSAID allergy is present in about 1 percent of the general population, but those with asthma are at a higher risk for an allergic response. Though aspirin and other NSAIDs are commonly known to cause stomach bleeding and ulcers, these reactions are referred to as "adverse events" and are not part of an allergic response. All people taking NSAIDs should take these pills with food to avoid stomach ulcers.
Other Medications: COX-2 Inhibitors and Acetaminophen
Aspirin and NSAIDs are very common products, so it is vital for a person with an established allergy to read all labels to avoid these medications. There are some medications that may be used in place of NSAIDs. COX-2 inhibitors, such as celecoxib, may be used by those prone to allergy. These medications are more selective and have fewer side effects than the more common NSAIDs that work on COX-1 enzymes. Acetaminophen, found in Tylenol, may also be used for pain, but this medication does not alter the inflammatory response like aspirin and NSAIDs.
Alternative and Complementary Therapies
There are a number of alternative treatments that can be used in place of aspirin and NSAIDs. Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in cold-water fish like salmon and sardines, fish oil supplements and flax seed, interfere with the inflammatory process and are recommended in chronic inflammatory diseases. Hypnotherapy and relaxation techniques can also help in long-term management of pain symptoms. Herbs that can be used against pain and inflammation are borage, evening primrose, ginger, garlic and turmeric.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.