Taking Ibuprofen Can Be Lethal If You Have This Common Lung Condition

It can be easy to fall into the line of thinking that over-the-counter medications are safe for everyone. For example, you might not think twice about popping an ibuprofen or two for headaches or muscle pain. However, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) aren't safe for everyone, especially those with asthma.

NSAIDs come by many different street names, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, they work by preventing the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX) from producing inflammation in joints. That's why you feel relief from inflammation and swelling. NSAIDs are also good for thinning the blood so that clots don't form, which can be helpful in those with a higher risk of heart disease. However, they inhibit the enzyme that protects the stomach lining from harsh chemicals, which can lead to upset stomach and ulcers. Additionally, individuals with asthma might be more susceptible to an allergy to ibuprofen, leading to worsening asthma symptoms.

Knowing the risks associated with asthma and ibuprofen can help you make an informed decision before trying the medication. We'll also look at a few alternatives to taking ibuprofen for pain and inflammation.

How ibuprofen affects those with asthma

Before diving into the how it's important to note that not everyone with asthma will be affected by ibuprofen. WebMD stated about 20% of people with asthma were sensitive to ibuprofen and other NSAIDs. For some reason, the inhibiting of the COX protein causes people living with asthma to have an allergic reaction. This might be due to the overproduction of leukotrienes in those with asthma. The leukotrienes get released, leading to allergic responses, per Healthline.

The response can range from mild to severe (via Medical News Today). Symptoms for people with asthma include skin rash, runny nose, coughing, and hives. More severe reactions include shortness of breath, facial swelling, bronchospasms, and wheezing. The reaction can happen as soon as 30 minutes of taking ibuprofen but can take as long as 24 hours, according to research in Medicine Baltimore.

Additionally, those with asthma, NSAID intolerance, and nasal polyps can have a condition known as aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease (AERD), which can be life-threatening if NSAIDs are taken. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology noted that about 9% of adults with just asthma and 30% of those with asthma and nasal polyps have AERD. It's also noted individuals with AERD don't typically respond to conventional treatments and suffer chronic sinus infections. They can also develop respiratory reactions when they consume alcohol.

Alternative medications and treatments for those with asthma

Pharmacist David Craig told The Healthy, "Asthmatics who have a demonstrated sensitivity to NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, could have a life-threatening bronchospasm event. These patients should talk to their doctors about alternative options to manage pain." However, finding an alternative isn't as easy as you think. When NSAIDs are taken off the table, you can look to other pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help control pain and fevers. However, while most people with asthma are fine to use acetaminophen, it can worsen asthma symptoms in some. Additionally, a study in the American Academy of Pediatrics found frequently using acetaminophen can increase asthma prevalence in children. 

If medication makes you nervous, you can find ways to lower your fever and reduce your pain without taking meds. Medical News Today states ice packs can help ease swelling and pain from an injured muscle or ligament. You could also put a heating pad on the area to reduce the swelling. Adding stretching routines and relaxation techniques can help with chronic pain and headaches since it allows your muscles to relax and gets the blood flowing. Alternative medication options like acupuncture and acupressure are also available to relieve pain in those with chronic suffering. Work with your doctor to find out what meds or lifestyle changes can work the best for you and your asthma to avoid worsening symptoms.