Reye Syndrome is still a rare but serious disease

by Debbie Linder

The Free Press

Have you ever experienced a warning bell going off in your head? I have periodically.

The most recent one was triggered by a teenage girl who was telling me about her cold symptoms. She was miserable. Unfortunately, her mother was having trouble finding medicine that she would take.

Apparently, the girl could not swallow pills, and would not take the chewable tablets or liquid form of Tylenol or Ibuprofen because of the taste. However, she did like the taste of baby aspirin. Unbeknownst to her and her mother, aspirin has been linked to Reye syndrome.

Reye Syndrome is a rare but serious disease that affects children from age 2 through their teen years. This syndrome was reported in 1963 by an Australian pathologist, for whom the disease was named.

He noted that children were suffering from brain swelling and liver damage after being treated with aspirin for viral symptoms, such as headache and fever associated with the chicken pox, the flu, or a cold.

Often the symptoms appeared when the child was beginning to recover from the virus, about three to seven days after the onset. The symptoms may develop slowly over days or quickly over several hours. Initial symptoms are repetitive vomiting, lack of energy, and extreme sleepiness.

As the syndrome progresses, the child will develop symptoms of irritability, confusion, aggressive behavior, slurred speech, loss of consciousness, seizures, and muscle weakness, all without a fever.

Hospitalization is required for the treatment of Reye Syndrome. Children are placed in the intensive care unit so doctors can closely monitor and try to prevent damage to the brain and liver.

There is no a cure for Reye Syndrome. Doctors can only provide medicines that will decrease brain swelling, stop damage to the liver, and prevent other complications from developing.

With early treatment, most children recover and do not suffer longterm damage while others experience varying degrees of permanent brain injury. Without early treatment, though, children will die within a couple days of onset.

However, Reye Syndrome is rare today because doctors have discouraged parents from giving aspirin or products containing aspirin to their children. Avoiding these products has become one of the most effective way to prevent Reye Syndrome.

But, not all children can avoid aspirin. There are illnesses that require children to take aspirin. However, doctors monitor them very closely and parents are instructed to notify them anytime their child develops any viral symptoms.

Another effective way to decrease the incidence of Reye Syndrome is through vaccines. All children need two doses of the chicken pox vaccine to build a strong immunity against it. Also, a yearly flu shot will help decrease the risk of the disease.

This is an illness that parents have some preventive control. Of course, there are cases where parents do everything in their power to prevent their child from getting sick and they get sick anyway.

That being understood, children need parents to be strong and not let them decide what medicine is good for them. Unless doctor ordered, aspirin is not kid friendly.

As parents, we have to diligently monitor medicines, be undeterred in our decisions concerning what is good for our them, and always be on the lookout for potential problems so we can effectively protect our kids.

Debbie Linder is the school nurse for USD 481 Rural Vista.