Frequently Asked Questions About Aspirin-Exacerbated Respiratory Disease (AERD) Treatment

What is AERD and what are the symptoms?

AERD (aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease) is an aggressive inflammatory disorder affecting the sinuses and the lungs. It is associated with the formation of nasal polyps and often responds poorly to conventional treatment. The hallmark of AERD is the reaction that occurs when a NSAID is ingested. Patients may develop some or all of the following:

  • Hives and/or a rash
  • Teary eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing

How common is aspirin sensitivity?

Reactions to aspirin and other NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, are common among people who suffer from certain respiratory conditions. In fact, about 40 percent of those with asthma, chronic sinusitis and nasal polyps actually have AERD.

What is aspirin desensitization?

Instead of simply suppressing the symptoms with medications or undergoing repeated sinus/nasal polyp surgical procedures, aspirin desensitization can treat the underlying cause of the AERD. In people with AERD, low doses of aspirin are administered in a controlled medical setting. Slowly, the dosage is increased. When the full dose is reached, the individual is considered desensitized and can take aspirin or other NSAIDs safely.

Is aspirin desensitization right for you?

People who have asthma, nasal polyps, sinusitis and reactions to aspirin or other NSAIDs may find relief from their conditions following desensitization. After treatment, patients typically experience the following benefits:

  • Reduced asthma attacks
  • Fewer surgeries to remove nasal polyps
  • Less medication (including inhaled steroids) to alleviate airway symptoms
  • Improved sense of smell

If you have had a reaction to other medications like ibuprofen or naproxen, aspirin desensitization may be right for you. Those drugs are also NSAIDs, which are closely related to aspirin and commonly trigger reactions in people with AERD.

Is aspirin desensitization safe?

Even if you have experienced a severe reaction after taking a NSAID, desensitization can be done safely and effectively. Many patients experience only minor symptoms. First, a peripheral intravenous (IV) line is inserted during the procedure. The IV route is the fastest way to administer drugs throughout the body, so if a serious reaction does occur, it can be quickly reversed with proper medication. Patients are under close observation at all times. A nurse is present during the procedure and your doctor will be continuously monitoring your condition. Multiple breathing tests are given throughout the day to ensure your safety and comfort.

How long will it take to be desensitized to aspirin?

Desensitization takes place in a comfortable outpatient setting over a two to three day period. After each session, patients are allowed to go home for the day. They must return to the clinic every morning until the desensitization is complete.