Keeping Kids Healthy Advice
If you look at the directions on a bottle of aspirin, it says that you should not give it to children under 12 years of age. This is because children suffering from a viral infection that have been given aspirin have an increased risk of developing a condition known as Reye’s syndrome. Though the labels normally say not to give it to a child under 12, aspirin should not be given to children under 16 without a doctor’s approval.
Reye’s syndrome is a rare, potentially fatal condition that normally strikes children under 15 years-old, who are recovering from a viral infection, such as an upper respiratory tract infection, viral diarrhea, or chicken pox. In many cases, it is mild and may not even be detected. Other cases may be severe.
Symptoms of Reye’s syndrome include:
Nausea and frequent vomiting that doesn’t stop even when not eating or drinking
irrational behavior or confusion
Loss of consciousness
It also can cause a severe increase in pressure in the brain and abnormal fat accumulation in the liver. Increased swelling in the brain may cause seizures, coma, and the child may stop breathing.
Though the exact cause is unknown, use of aspirin during a viral illness has been linked to the condition. It is more likely to appear in the winter months, when outbreaks of viral diseases, such as the flu, are more likely. Reye’s syndrome is not contagious.
The severity of the disease varies. Reye’s syndrome may be mild and the child may recover within five to ten days, but it can cause death within hours in some cases.
A child with Reye’s syndrome needs immediate medical care and the earlier it is diagnosed, the better the chance that the child will recover. A liver biopsy and a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) are often used to verify diagnosis because Reye’s syndrome is often mistaken for encephalitis, meningitis, uncontrolled diabetes, or drug overdose.
Treatment for Reye’s syndrome depends on the symptoms, but all patients affected by the condition are treated in the hospital. Early diagnosis and treatment increase the chances of recovery. Treatment focuses on preventing irreversible damage that is caused by the swelling in the brain. Some patients recover fully, but others may have permanent brain damage. If there is a delay in diagnosis and treatment for the condition, successful recovery is less likely. If Reye’s syndrome goes untreated the patient can die within a few days.
Though the number of cases of Reye’s syndrome has dropped since it was discovered in the 1960s, if your child shows the symptoms of the condition, contact your pediatrician immediately. Many children suffering from a virus will have similar symptoms and most will not have Reye’s syndrome, but early detection is important for prevent permanent damage and death.