Management options for patients with aspirin and nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug sensitivity

Ann Pharmacother. 2007 Jul;41(7):1191-200. doi: 10.1345/aph.1K023. Epub 2007 Jul 3.


Objective: To evaluate and provide management strategies for patients with aspirin or nonselective nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug (NSAID) sensitivity.

Data sources: Literature retrieval was accessed through MEDLINE (1966-March 2007) using the terms acetaminophen, aspirin, antiinflammatory agents nonsteroidal, urticaria, angioedema, asthma, leukotriene antagonists, desensitization, and tacrolimus. Article references retrieved were hand-searched for other relevant articles.

Study selection and data extraction: All studies published in English were evaluated. Studies, review articles, and commentaries on aspirin-induced asthma and aspirin- or NSAID-induced urticaria/angioedema were included in the review.

Data synthesis: Aspirin sensitivity is most often manifested as respiratory reactions (eg, bronchospasm, profuse rhinorrhea, conjunctival injection) or urticaria/angioedema. The primary mechanism is believed to be inhibition of the cyclooxygenase 1 (COX-1) enzyme; as such, patients with aspirin sensitivity often display cross-reactions to nonselective NSAIDs that inhibit the COX-1 enzyme. Management strategies include avoidance of aspirin and cross-reacting nonselective NSAIDs. However, desensitization to aspirin is a viable option for patients with aspirin-induced respiratory reactions, especially for those who require aspirin for thromboembolic prophylaxis. Aspirin desensitization is maintained indefinitely with a daily aspirin dose. There is limited evidence of the use of leukotriene modifiers in preventing aspirin-induced asthma. COX-2 selective NSAIDs, especially in patients with aspirin-induced asthma, have not been found to cross-react. However, approximately 4% of patients with a history of aspirin-induced skin reactions may experience a cutaneous reaction following a challenge to a COX-2 selective NSAID. Since acetaminophen is a weak inhibitor of the COX-1 enzyme, patients with aspirin-induced asthma should not take more than 1000 mg of acetaminophen in a single dose.

Conclusions: Management of patients with aspirin/NSAID sensitivity includes avoidance of aspirin/nonselective NSAIDs, use of COX-2 selective NSAIDs, acetaminophen in doses less than 1000 mg, and desensitization. The role of leukotriene modifiers requires further study before they can be recommended for patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Aspirin / adverse effects*
  • Aspirin / therapeutic use
  • Disease Management
  • Drug Hypersensitivity
  • Humans
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / chemically induced
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / enzymology
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / prevention & control


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Aspirin