When the Sis recently recently showed up with an inhaler and reported her new diagnosis of asthma, I said, “Oh, everybody today is asthmatic.” While the Sis tends to be a bit of a hypochondriac, the number of people I know being diagnosed with asthma has increased. I was dismissive towards the Sis because anecdotally, asthma was beginning to seem as fashionable a diagnosis as hypoglycemia had been a few decades ago. Or hysteria a century ago.
When middle-aged, non-smoker, white folks that live and work in low air pollution environments suddenly begin developing asthma at a significantly increasing rate, one would expect that the medical community would be sounding alarms along with writing more treatment prescriptions. Apparently one would be wrong with that expectation, but fortunately there have been enough good clinicians asking why that there is one answer.
The LA Times reported this on August 13, 2010:
Overall, the increased risk of asthma associated with acetaminophen was 41%, the authors found. That could, at least in part, explain why there has been an increase in the prevalence of asthma in the 50 years since the drug was introduced. Given the widespread use of the drug, it could also represent a large public health problem.Did you see that? I didn't.
It's not even a mystery why acetaminophen is causal to asthma:
Acetaminophen has been shown to deplete the compound glutathione from lung tissue. Glutathione is a very important antioxidant that can limit lung tissue inflammation. Also, there is a direct relationship between glutathione levels and premature aging.Not difficult to see why the makers of Tylenol wouldn't want that information to be widely disseminated. Johnson & Johnson did a masterful job in responding to the 1982 deaths caused by cyanide laced Tylenol. Apart from the gallows humor of the time, “end it now with Tylenol,” it was apparent to everybody that Tylenol hadn't caused those deaths. But who is going to take an OTC medication that is associated with premature aging?
The latest Johnson & Johnson Tylenol recall, three days ago, infant formulation, looks similar to the 1982 and later recall efforts. Something wrong with the packaging and dosage and not the medicine. Barely newsworthy. Not even mentioned in Patti Neighmond's NPR report on asthma in children and Tylenol this morning.
Why you just might be one of the growing number of millions that are asthmatic.All those asthma sufferers I know use acetaminophen and have long scoffed at my old-fashioned preference for aspirin.
Parents and doctors around the world have been alarmed by the dramatic increase in childhood asthma.
One factor in the upswing is better detection by doctors, but at least one doctor thinks a common over-the-counter drug also has something to do with it.
Dr. John McBride sees lots of kids with asthma. He's a pediatric pulmonologist at Akron Children's Hospital in Ohio. He knew of studies that raised concern about the safety of acetaminophen — brand name Tylenol — to treat colds and fever in kids with asthma. So he decided to look more closely at the research.
"I was stunned," he says. All the studies he looked at showed a link between
asthma and acetaminophen.
"The more acetaminophen somebody takes, the more likely it is that they have asthma," he says. "Also, there's an incredible consistency. Everybody around the world who's looked for this association has been able to find it."
The direct and indirect costs of asthma in the US are high. High enough that the use of acetaminophen should carry a warning label.