Aspirin Exacerbated Respiratory Disease

What is Aspirin Triad Asthma (also known as AIA-Aspirin intolerant Asthma)?

Aspirin-intolerant asthma (AIA) is a specific subtype of asthma. It is characterized by asthmatic episodes triggered within 1-3 hours of taking an aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).  Usually these are accompanied by nasal symptoms (nasal congestion, runny nose and sneezing) and facial flushing. The asthma attack triggered by aspirin may be very severe and life threatening.

The syndrome of Aspirin Triad Asthma is different from other forms of asthma. It starts later in life, usually after age 25 but has been seen in children. The syndrome starts with nasal symptoms including congestion, and sneezing, runny nose and diminished sense of smell. The lining of the nose swells and nasal polyps develop. On average, asthma develops two years after the onset of nasal symptoms, with intolerance to aspirin and other NSAIDs occurring about four years later. Sinus infections are very common in those with significant nasal obstruction.

Patients with Aspirin Intolerant Asthma may be unaware of their intolerance to aspirin. They may have taken aspirin or NSAIDS in the past, before onset of this syndrome, without any problem. However, as opposed to other types of allergies, the development of aspirin-induced asthma does not depend on having had previous exposure to aspirin or NSAIDs. Although avoidance of all NSAIDS is important to prevent acute attacks, the condition tends to be progressive, despite avoidance of these medications. Diet does not help.

What Causes Aspirin Triad Asthma?

Overproduction of chemicals called leukotrienes aggravated by aspirin/NSAID ingestion activates allergic cells in the lungs and sinuses of patients with aspirin-triad asthma.

Treatment Options:

Asprin Triad Asthma is not treated any differently than other forms of asthma—it is all based on the severity of the disease.  Drugs that block the effects of leukotrienes diminishes the symptoms of these patients when they ingest aspirin but otherwise don’t have a huge impact.  Ironically, though taking a full dose of NSAIDs will cause an acute attack in an aspirin triad asthma patient, slow aspirin desensitization has proven to be one of the most effective treatments. This should only be done under close physician supervision.

Some things to know about Aspirin-Induced Asthma:

  • Tends to develop in the more severe asthma patients
  • Aspirin may induce life-threatening asthma attacks

Other Terms for Aspirin-Induced Asthma (AIA)

  • Aspirin-sensitive asthma
  • Aspirin-intolerant asthma
  • NSAID-induced rhinitis and asthma

****There is a long list of medications to look out for.   NSAIDs are also in many common drugs (eg-Alka Seltzer).  Rarely even Tylenol (which is not an NSAID) triggers reactions in these patients ****

Related articles