In the '80s, doctors and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) started to see an alarming trend involving the use of aspirin in children and the onset of Reye’s Syndrome (pronounced “Rye’s”).
It's not that aspirin causes Reye’s, but it acts as a trigger when taken to treat a virus.
Since then, the CDC and other health agencies have campaigned to make parents aware of the connection between aspirin and Reye’s syndrome.
What is Reye’s Syndrome?
Reye’s Syndrome is a rare, but serious, and often fatal condition that causes the liver and brain to swell. Swelling of the brain can cause seizures, convulsions, loss of consciousness, and the change in personality that is often observed in later stages of the condition. (2)
Reye’s Syndrome also causes a drop in a child’s blood sugar level and an increase in ammonia and acidity levels in the body. (1)
Reye’s is not contagious, and tends to appear in January, February and March, obviously the peak of flu season, but can occur at any time of year. (2)
In 1980, the highest incidence rate of Reye’s was reported at 555 cases. With the apparent link to Reye’s, the CDC started a “no aspirin to children under 18” campaign and in 1987 only 37 cases were reported — 40 percent of those (that is, nearly half) cases were in children younger than 5 years of age and more than 90 percent of all cases occurred in children younger than 15 years of age. (3)
Signs and Symptoms of Reye’s Syndrome
Signs and symptoms of Reye’s Syndrome appear from three to seven days after a viral infection (flu or chickenpox), upper respiratory infection or ear infection.
For children younger than 24 months, initial symptoms to watch for include diarrhea, rapid breathing, persistent or continuous vomiting, and unusual sleepiness or inability to wake after a nap.
The Mayo Clinic describes that as the disease progresses, symptoms include:
• Irrational behavior
• Confusion, disorientation, hallucinations
• Weakness or paralysis in the arms and legs
• Excessive sleepiness
• Decreased level of consciousness