Causes of a Child Taking Aspirin at an Early Age: Reye’s Syndrome

Reye’s syndrome rarely occurs, but it is a serious illness that can cause a viral infection in children. It will infect a child’s blood, brain and liver. The syndrome can cause high levels of ammonia, more acidity, low-sugar levels in the blood and creates fat deposits. In addition, a child may develop swelling in their liver and brain, which can cause consciousness, delirium or seizures.

Reye’s syndrome was first identified in 1963 as a distinct disease. In 1980, the number of cases peaked at 555 in the United States, but presently only a few cases have been reported each year. The cause of Reye’s syndrome is unknown, but indications may suggest that children taking aspirin at an early age may contribute to the syndrome. This condition occurs in children between the ages of 2 and 16, after an infection such as chickenpox, influenza or upper respiratory infection.


Symptoms of Reye’s syndrome can start a week after a viral infection. Your child may experience persistent vomiting and nausea for one to three days, followed by a decline in awareness because of the brain swelling. It can progress to lethargy and drowsiness to stupor and coma. In addition, your child may show signs of agitation, seizures or convulsions.


The doctor may request that your child take a blood test, and a liver biopsy ‘” tissue sample is removed so a laboratory can analyze it. Cerebrospinal fluid taken from the spinal tap will determine if there is any underlying disease such as meningitis or encephalitis.


The condition varies from each child, but Reye’s syndrome is a severe and life-threatening disorder. A child surviving this disorder depends on how soon the treatment began, how far the disease progressed and how quickly the child can stabilize their body. When the syndrome was discovered, a child’s fatality rate was more than 40-percent. Since then, the rate has decreased to 10-percent with children recovering from the disorder taking two to three months.


Your doctor will closely monitor your child’s intravenous medication dosage. A small amount of insulin is given to increase your child’s glucose metabolism. Brain swelling is controlled with a corticosteroid (dexamethasone), which reduces inflammation. In addition, a diuretic (mannitol) is given to increase fluid loss through urination.