by Kimberly Allen RN
Reye’s syndrome is a condition that causes swelling of the brain and liver. Reye’s syndrome is almost always diagnosed in children and teens though there have been cases of adults developing the syndrome. However, in the adults the damage to the brain and liver is not permanent. Reye’s syndrome is a serious condition that can be fatal. Since 1980 when researchers linked the use of aspirin to treat children with viral illnesses, Reye’s syndrome has become a rare occurrence. Though the exact cause remains unknown what they do know is that there is a relationship between the use of aspirin and certain viral infections. Once this relationship was confirmed the CDC recommended that the public be educated about the potentially dangerous effects of aspirin in children. The education canmpaign worked and now there are very few cases of Reye’s syndrome.
Though researchers have found a link between the use of aspirin to treat certain viral conditions and reye’s syndrome there have been cases of Reye’s syndrome not associated with aspirin use. In these cases Reye’s syndrome is believed to be associated with other factors including metabolic disorders like Fatty Acid Oxidation disorders or exposure to certain environmental toxins like insecticides and herbicides as well as paint thinners.
The symptoms of Reye’s syndrome generally go through 5 stages;
1. A rash will form on the palms of your childs hands and the soles of the feet, and have persistent vomiting. Most children are lethargic and confused with a high fever and headache.
2. Encephalitis has usually developed so the child will also display symptoms related to encephalitis like loss of balance, increased lethargy and confusion. The child also tends to hyperventilate.
3. The symptoms of stages 1 and 2 continue and worsen in severity sometimes leading to coma or respiratory arrest.
4. The condition has progressed and the child is in a deepening coma, their pupils dilate and demostrate minimal response to light. The liver continues to malfunction.
5. This stage follows quickly on the heels of stage 4 as the child enters a deep coma with multiple organ failure followed by death.
As a rule Reye’s syndrome is always treated in the hospital with severe cases being treated in the intensive care unit. There are numerous reasons why but one of the biggest is that the staff can monitor your child 24/7 for any changes. While hospitalized your child will receive intravenous fluids with glucose and electrolytes to replace those lost from vomiting and to maintain hydration. Diuretics may also be given to reduce intercranial pressure as well as medications to prevent seizure activity. Because of the liver damage the potential for increased bleeding is significant so many Dr’s will also give vitamin K and if necessary plasma and platelets.
Because of public education the prevalence of this disease has significantly decreased, another indication of how much better prevention is than treatment. Always read the labels, there are numerous over the counter medications available today and the don’t say “I have aspirin” on the front. many people don’t realize aspirin is in many products including alka-seltzer. The names to watch for in the ingredientssection on the label include; acetylsalicylic acid, acetylsalicylate, salicylilc acid and salicylate. If your child has a viral illness like the flu or chicken pox do not give them any medication cantaining any amounts of those substances.