Can taking an aspirin each day stop asthma from developing in adults? Possibly, suggests new research that found adult onset asthma risk was reduced by 22% in men who were already taking a daily aspirin for heart disease prevention.
"Our findings suggest that low-dose aspirin may have beneficial effects on asthma," said study coauthor Dr. Tobias Kurth, an assistant professor of medicine and an associate epidemiologist in the division of aging at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
As many as 20 million Americans have asthma, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAD. Despite advances in treatment, about 5,000 people die due to asthma every year in the US, the AAAAI reports.
The incidence of asthma has been rising in recent years. And that rise coincides with the decreased use of aspirin as people have switched to other over-the-counter pain relievers, or avoided aspirin use in children due to concerns about Reye's syndrome. That led researchers to wonder if the reduction in aspirin use was contributing to the rise of asthma.
To test that hypothesis, Kurth and his colleagues reviewed data from 22,071 male physicians between the ages of 40 and 84 who were randomly assigned to receive either a daily dose of 325 milligrams of aspirin or a placebo. The original aim of the research was to study aspirin's role in heart disease prevention.
During the five-year study period, 113 new cases of asthma were diagnosed in the aspirin group, compared with 145 in the placebo group. This represented a 22% decrease in the risk of developing asthma for those taking low-dose aspirin.
Kurth said the researchers weren't able to study the reasons why aspirin might have this preventive effect against asthma, but theorized that aspirins anti-inflammatory effects might play a role.
He did caution, however, that for some people who already have asthma, aspirin could be an irritant that can actually trigger asthma symptoms. The question for researchers now, according to Kurth, is "for those at risk of getting asthma, should they be treated with aspirin or not?
Dr. Rick Vinuya, an allergist and immunologist at Providence Hospital and Medical Center in Southfield, Michigan, echoed Kurth's comments.
"Any time you have an intervention to prevent the onset of disease, it's exciting, and a 22% reduction in risk is huge. This study needs to be followed up with a study specifically designed to answer whether aspirin really does have an affect and how does it work?"
Right now, Vinuya said, no one should start taking aspirin to prevent asthma. "This study adds on to the beneficial effects of aspirin. It's a healthy practice to take aspirin to prevent heart attacks and now it looks as if a secondary benefit is a possible decrease in the development of asthma. But, asthma prevention can't be the primary reason for taking daily aspirin," he said.