Do you know that giving aspirin to your child can cause Reye’s Syndrome?

Reye’s Syndrome is a rare condition, but a serious one and can cause swelling in the liver and brain.

Moreover, Reye’s syndrome often affects children and teenagers recovering from a viral infection.

These infections are flu and chickenpox.

Signs and symptoms of Reye’s syndrome are confusion, seizures, and loss of consciousness require emergency treatment.

Early diagnosis and treatment of Reye’s syndrome can save the life of your child.

It is important to note that aspirin has been linked with Reye’s Syndrome, therefore, make sure when giving aspirin to your child or teenager for fever or pain.

Though aspirin is approved for use in children above 3 years of age, however, children and teenagers recovering from conditions like chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never use it.

Instead, you can give over-the-counter fever and pain medications like acetaminophen or iburophen.

Keep on reading to learn more about it in detail.

Symptoms of Reye’s Syndrome

The blood sugar level usually drops while the levels of ammonia and acidity in their blood may also rise, in Reye’s Syndrome.

At the same time, the liver may swell and develop fatty deposits. Moreover, swelling can also occur in the brain, which can cause seizures, convulsions, or loss of consciousness.

The signs and symptoms of Reye’s syndrome often appear about 3 to 5 days after the onset of a viral infection.

This could be flu or influenza or chickenpox, or an upper respiratory infection like cold.

Initial Signs and Symptoms

If your child is younger than 2 years of age, the first signs of Reye’s syndrome may include diarrhea and rapid breathing.

raye's syndrome 1

For older children and teenagers, the early signs and symptoms are:

  • resistant or continuous vomiting
  • unusual sleepiness or lethargy

Additional Signs and Symptoms

As the condition progress, the signs and symptoms may become more serious.

These are:

Irritable, aggressive, or irrational behavior, confusion, disorientation, or hallucinations.

Moreover, weakness or paralysis in arms and legs, seizures, excessive lethargy, and a decrease in the level of consciousness are other symptoms.

These signs and symptoms require emergency treatment as soon as possible.

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Causes of Reye’s Syndrome

Many experts are not sure what exactly causes Reye’s syndrome.

Different factors can play a role. Moreover, there is strong evidence that it can trigger when individuals use aspirin.

It also seems to be more common in children and teenagers who have underlying fatty acid oxidation disorder.

This style of metabolic disorder causes the body to be unable to break down fatty acids.

Other over-the-counter medications may also contain salicylates similar to those present in Aspirin.

raye's syndrome 2

For instance, they are present in:

Bismuth subsalicylate, Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate

Products that contain oil of wintergreen and are often topical medications.

Moreover, it is important to note that you should not give these medications to children who have or had a viral infection.

It is important that you should also avoid it for several weeks after your child receives the chickenpox vaccine.

In addition, exposure to certain chemicals like paint thinners or herbicides can also contribute to the development of Reye’s syndrome.

Prevalence and Risk Factors

Children and teenagers with underlying fatty acid oxidation disorders are the ones with the highest risk for Reye’s syndrome.

Moreover, with the help of screening tests, your doctor can confirm the diagnosis.

According to Mayo Clinic, in some cases, it may be an underlying metabolic condition that is exposed by a virus.

risk factors

In case you are using aspirin to treat your child’s or teenager’s viral infection, they are at high risk of developing Reye’s syndrome.

It is important to note that Reye’s syndrome is extremely rare, which is partially why the knowledge about it is limited.

Accroding to research, fewer than 20 cases have been reported annually since 1988.

However, the survival rate for Reye’s syndrome is about 80%.

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Diagnosis of Reye’s Syndrome

There is no specific test that can help diagnose Reye’s syndrome.

Instead, screenings for Reye’s syndrome often begin with blood and urine tests as well as testing for fatty acid oxidation disorders and other metabolic disorders.

In some cases, however, your doctor may use more invasive diagnostic tests to evaluate other possible causes of liver problems.

Moreover, it can also help to investigate any neurological abnormalities.

For instance:

Spinal Tap or Lumbar Puncture

A spinal tap can help your doctor to identify or even rule out other diseases with similar signs and symptoms

This can be an infection of the lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) or inflammation or infection of the brain, i.e. encephalitis.

During this procedure, they will insert a needle through the lower back in space below the end of the spinal cord.

A small sample of cerebrospinal fluid can help and identify any issue.

Liver Biopsy

A liver biopsy can help your doctor to identify or rule out certain conditions that might be affecting your liver.

During this, they will insert a needle through the liver on the upper right side of the abdomen and into the liver.

The small sample of tissue your doctor will remove will be analyzed in the lab for testing.

CT Scan or MRI

A CT scan or MRI creates detailed images of the brain and your doctor can use it to identify the causes of behavior changes or decreases in alertness.

Skin Biopsy

In order to test for fatty acid oxidation or metabolic disorders may require a skin biopsy, though a direct gene sequencing with blood and urine test can help to make a diagnosis.

A small sample of your skin tissue can help to diagnose your condition.

Treatment Options

You will often need to get treatment for Reye’s Syndrome in the hospital.

However, for severe cases, you will need treatment in the intensive care unit. The hospital will closely monitor your child’s blood pressure and other vital signs.

Some of the specific treatments may include:

Intravenous Fluids: Glucose and an electrolyte solution may be administered through an intravenous, IV line.


Diuretics: These medications can help to decrease intracranial pressure and increase fluid loss through urination.

Medications to Prevent Bleeding: Bleeding due to liver abnormalities may require treatment with vitamin K, plasma, and platelets.

Cooling Blankets: This intervention helps to maintain internal body temperature at a safe level.

In case your child has difficulty breathing, they may need assistance from a breathing machine or ventilator.

The earlier the diagnosis, the better the outcome for your child.

However, if it progresses to late stages, your child may end up with permanent brain damage.

Therefore, it is important to get treatment as soon as possible.

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Preventing Raye’s Syndrome

It is important to be cautious when giving aspirin to your child or teenager. Though aspirin is approved, however, it can cause complications in case your child is recovering from chickenpox- or flu-like symptoms.

This includes plain aspirin and other medications that contain aspirin.

Moreover, some hospitals and medical facilities also conduct newborn screenings for fatty acid oxidation disorders to determine which child is at a greater risk for developing Reye’s syndrome.

Therefore, if your child is known with fatty acid oxidation disorder, then make sure to not give them aspirin or aspirin-containing products.

It is important to always check the label before ging your child medications, also include over-the-counter products and alternative or herbal remedies.

Aspirin can show up in some places like Alka-Seltzer.


In some cases, it also goes by other names like:

  • Acetylsalicylic acid
  • Acetylsalicylate
  • Salicylic acid
  • Salicylate

For the treatment of fever or pain that accompanies flu or chickenpox or any other viral illness, consider giving your child, infant, or teenage, over-the-counter fever and pain medications.

These include acetaminophen or iburophen that are a safe alternative to aspirin.

There is now a caveat to the aspirin rule, however, children and teenagers who have certain chronic diseases may need long-term treatment with drugs that contain aspirin.

These are conditions like Kawasaki Disease.

However, if your child needs aspirin, make sure that his or her vaccines are current, including two diseases of varicella or chickenpox vaccine and a yearly flu vaccine.

Thus, avoiding these two viral illnesses can help prevent Reye’s Syndrome.

Long-Term Outlook

Raye’s syndrome is rarely fatal, however, it can cause varying degrees of permanent brain damage. Therefore, it is important to take your child to the emergency room immediately if you see the signs of confusion, lethargy, and other mental symptoms. Moreover, it is important to get your child vaccinated for diseases like chickenpox and a yearly vaccine for flu.

It is important to note that this syndrome often infects children and teenagers with ongoing infections of a history of infections like flu or chickenpox. Taking aspirin can potentially increase the risk of developing this syndrome. Both chickenpox and flu can give headaches, and that is why you would want to give an aspirin, instead, you can give other medications like acetaminophen or iburophen to treat headaches.