When I was a kid we took "Baby Aspirin" for a fever or for pain. We had never even heard of the safer alternatives, Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Motrin (Iburofen). They simply were not around at that time . . . I actually liked the orangey flavor of the little chewable Bayer aspirin tablets . . . But my feelings about baby aspirin changed in the spring of 1975 when my young cousin developed an ususual illness and fell into a coma. Within 24 hours, after the most heroic medical measures then available at one of the finest medical centers in the U.S., she died at the age of 13. My cousin, Laurie Colley, (left) succombed to Reye's Syndrome brought on by aspirin use during a febrile illness that she had seemingly recovered from a few weeks before her serious symptoms developed.
Reye's syndrome is not a disease--but rather an association between the administration of aspirin to treat symptoms that occur during the course of an acute viral illness accompanied by fever. Two febrile illnesses often associated with Reye's are Chicken Pox and Influenza .
Scientists aren't certain why some children develop Reye's while others in similar circumstances are spared. However, we do know that when the syndrome is triggered by the asiprin-virus association, damage is done at the cellular level. The liver is affected first, but the signs of a problem don't occur until weeks later. By then, liver damage has affected the brain. Early recognition of signs and symptoms is crucial to survive Reye's Syndrome.
Young people (under the age of 21) should not be given aspirin or other products containing salicylate, ESPECIALLY if they have a fever. Topical products containing salicylate can be absorbed through the skin and must also be used with caution.
Two over-the-counter products that contain salicylate may surprise you: Pepto-Bismol and Alka Seltzer.com. Both of these products have the "black box" containing the Reye's Syndrome warning on their labels. Problem is these black boxes are usually SO SMALL that you have to really look hard to find them! The websites for the products do acknowledge the Reye's warning as well.
Please, talk about Reye's with your teenagers and educate the young parents in your life so that we can prevent needless neurological damage or death from this serious condition.