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How do I Know if I Am Allergic to Aspirin?

By Lindsay Kahl
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Aspirin allergy is also known as salicylate sensitivity or aspirin sensitivity. If you are allergic to aspirin, you will experience adverse affects when taking aspirin or Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, also known as NSAIDs. NSAIDs are closely related to aspirin and include ibuprofen, naproxen and many other medications. Some reactions include itchy or swollen skin, coughing, a runny nose or a shortness of breath. Aspirin allergy is actually not considered to be true allergy by definition, but it does cause the same types of symptoms as an allergic reaction.

Aspirin and other NSAIDs contain salicylates, which are chemicals that occur naturally in plants. These chemicals are the cause of reactions in people with aspirin sensitivity. Salicylates also are present in many fruits and vegetables, cosmetics and personal care products, such as shampoo and toothpaste.

If you are allergic to aspirin, you might experience a range of adverse effects after taking the medication or using products containing salicylates. Some of the reactions include skin symptoms such as swelling, hives or itching. A person who is allergic to aspirin might also experience respiratory problems such as coughing, shortness of breath, runny nose or asthma-like symptoms. In severe cases, an individual might experience anaphylaxis, which affects the entire body and can be life-threatening. Some symptoms of anaphylaxis include slurred speech, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations and abdominal pain.

There is no standard allergy test available for people who might be allergic to aspirin. In some cases, an allergist might perform an oral challenge in order to determine sensitivity. During an oral challenge, the medical professional gives the individual small doses of aspirin or an NSAID and monitors him or her closely for adverse reactions. It takes place in a controlled setting so the doctor or allergist provide emergency care if necessary

Individuals who are allergic to aspirin make up about 1 percent of the general population. People with asthma are more likely to exhibit sensitivity; about 10 percent of individuals with asthma experience more severe asthma symptoms when using aspirin or NSAIDs. For people who have chronic swelling or hives, the use of aspirin or NSAIDs can make these skin reactions worse.

There is no treatment for an aspirin allergy, other than avoiding medications containing aspirin or NSAIDs. This can be extremely difficult, because they are present in a multitude of over-the-counter medications. In some circumstances, using aspirin or NSAIDs might be unavoidable.

Some specialized medical centers offer aspirin desensitization services, performed under the supervision of medical professionals. During this process, the patient is given small doses of aspirin over the course of many hours, and any reactions are treated as they occur. The dose is repeated the following day, and the process continues until the patient can tolerate a typical aspirin dose. Desensitization lasts only as long as the patient takes aspirin daily; if he or she stops taking it, the intolerance returns.

An allergy to aspirin can cause mild to severe problems. If an individual experiences symptoms after taking aspirin or other NSAIDs, he or she should see a physician. Typically, people who are allergic to aspirin can tolerate acetaminophen safely but should first discuss it with a doctor.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon237690 — On Dec 30, 2011

I never knew I was supposed to avoid certain foods. I had a reaction to aspirin when I was 16 years old after I was treated in a psychiatric hospital. I don't know what caused the sensitivity but it never went away.

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