Children who take paracetamol during their first two years of life may be at a higher risk of developing asthma by the age of 18, especially if they have a particular genetic makeup, a study has found.
Research presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Paris showed the link between paracetamol use and asthma seemed strongest in those who had a particular variant of the glutathione S-transferase gene, GSTP1.
But the study authors stressed that the findings showed only that there was an association between paracetamol and asthma – not that paracetamol caused the lung condition.
Paracetamol is recommended to treat most kinds of childhood ailments, including headache, stomach ache, ear ache, and cold symptoms, while it can also be used to reduce fever.
The research, carried out at the University of Melbourne, Australia, looked at 620 children who had been followed from birth to 18 years old as part of the Melbourne Atopy Cohort Study.
They had been recruited to the study before they were born because they were considered to be potentially at high risk of developing an allergy-related disease as they had at least one family member with a self-reported allergic disease.
Researchers found one variant of the GSTP1 gene was associated with almost twice the risk of developing asthma.
“The idea that paracetamol use early in life may increase the risk of developing asthma has been around for about 20 years. It has been extraordinarily difficult to prove or disprove,” says Neil Pearce, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“The problem is that children are not given paracetamol early in life for no reason. They are often given it because they have respiratory infection. It may be the infection which increases the risk of asthma, not the paracetamol.”
“The picture is further complicated because these children are often also given antibiotics, which is also a possible risk factor for developing asthma,” he added.