Reye’s Syndrome

A rare but potentially fatal illness of preschool and school-age children. A number of organs may suffer damage, but the brain and liver are typically the most severely affected. The most worrisome feature of this disease is edema (increased fluid) within the brain, which can cause a dangerous increase in pressure within the skulk At least 70 percent of children diagnosed with Reye’s syndrome survive, but they may have neurological defects, depending upon the severity of the illness. Younger children appear to be at greatest risk; very rarely has Reye’s syndrome been reported in adults.

Reye’s Syndrome Symptoms

This syndrome is usually preceded by a viral infection such as chicken pox or influenza. The exact cause is unknown, but it is believed to be associated with taking aspirin (or products containing aspirin) during the infection.

The following is a typical scenario of Reye’s syndrome:

  1. A child has the chicken pox, flu, or other viral illness, during which she receives a product containing aspirin to reduce fever and aches.
  2. At first she seems to improve, but five to seven days after the beginning of the illness, she begins to vomit repeatedly.
  3. After the vomiting ceases, she becomes listless, inattentive, irritable, and delirious.
  4. As the disease progresses the child may become confused, and within a few hours, seizures and a deep coma may develop.

Reye’s Syndrome Treatment

It is important that you seek medical attention immediately if your child is manifesting the above symptoms, especially listlessness or confusion that follows vomiting. If Reye’s syndrome is suspected, blood tests and a spinal tap will usually be necessary to make the correct diagnosis. Treatment is supportive and requires admission to a hospital equipped to deal with life threatening situations involving increased pressure within the skull and abnormalities of liver function.

Reye’s Syndrome Prevention

No one understands why Reye’s syndrome affects some children .d not others. Over the past several years physicians and other health resources have warned parents not to give aspirin to their children during viral infections (or, for that matter, most other acute conditions), and this has decreased the number of re-ported cases of this disease. If your child develops a fever and/or aches during an illness, you should use acetaminophen or ibuprofen instead of aspirin to relieve it. Check the label of any product you give your child during an acute illness to be sure that it does not contain aspirin. (The label should include a specific warning about Reye’s syndrome.)