Aspirin: The Trigger and the Cure of AERD

Ever have a sinus infection that just won’t quit, recurring no matter how many antibiotics and decongestants you take? Sinus problems and not being able to breathe make life a struggle. The most common diagnosis is allergies, while many of those with these sinus problems test negative for allergies.

Patient post-polyp removal

A little-known disease called aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease (AERD) affects 1 to 1.5 million Americans. At least 20% of people with the condition go undiagnosed. They have asthma, loss of smell and taste, and nasal polyps. The polyps are benign growths that fill the sinus cavity, preventing air flow. They are surgically removed, but may return.

AERD is not an allergy, an environmental response, or genetically carried. It may begin with an infection that activates the body’s immune response, but never turns it off. The excess white blood cells can inflame the airway and cut off the smell receptors. AERD patients also produce too many inflammatory molecules called leukotrienes.

This condition was first described in the early 1900s, but little research has been done on it in the last century. The lack of science about the illness has led to a lack of awareness of AERD. Besides the asthma and polyps, the patient also has a life-threatening reaction to aspirin or ibuprofen.

A new treatment called aspirin desensitization is the answer to the polyp regrowth and future reaction to painkillers. The physician gives the patient aspirin, gradually increasing doses, until the patient can handle a large dose. No one knows why it works, but it desensitizes the patient to aspirin, alleviates symptoms, and prevents the growth of new polyps. The patient must take a maintenance level of aspirin daily for the rest of their life to stay desensitized. There aren’t many other options – and it works.
Chen, Agnus. “Aspirin Both Triggers And Treats An Often-Missed Disease.” Health Shots. NPR, 21 Mar 2016. Web. 31 Mar 2016.

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