Reye syndrome is a rare but serious illness that can affect the brain and liver.
It's most common in kids who are recovering from a viral infection.
It's still not well understood, but studies have linked it to the use of aspirin
(salicylates) or aspirin products during illnesses caused by viruses.
In rare cases, it can cause death within hours. Because it can be a life-threatening
disorder, Reye syndrome is a medical emergency.
Early detection and treatment are critical. The chances for a full recovery are
best when Reye (pronounced: rye) syndrome is treated in its earliest stages.
Who Gets Reye Syndrome?
Reye (or Reye's) syndrome most often affects kids 4 to 14 years old. The number
of cases has dropped greatly since doctors began advising against giving aspirin to
kids and teens, especially during viral illnesses.
Most cases happen when viral diseases are epidemic, such as during the winter months
or after an outbreak of chickenpox
or the flu.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms Reye Syndrome?
The signs and symptoms of Reye syndrome almost always follow the start of a viral
illness, such as an upper respiratory tract infection (a
cold, the flu, etc.), a diarrheal illness, or chickenpox.
Reye syndrome can start from 1 day to 2 weeks after a viral infection. Symptoms
tiredness or sleepiness
in babies, diarrhea and rapid breathing
irritability or aggressive behavior
Other symptoms include changes in vision, trouble hearing, and abnormal speech.
In the later stages, a child may:
have severe muscle weakness, seizures,
and loss of consciousness (pass out)
Even though it's rare, Reye syndrome should be considered if a child is vomiting
a lot or shows a change in mental status or behavior, particularly after a recent
How Is Reye Syndrome Treated?
Children with Reye syndrome are usually treated in a hospital. Those who are seriously
ill will be cared for in the intensive
care unit (ICU).
Treatment is supportive, as there is no cure. The clinical care team will:
Make sure the child stays hydrated and maintains electrolyte balance.
Check nutrition intake.
Watch the child's heart rate and breathing.
Watch the child's intracranial pressure (pressure of the fluid in the brain) and
Tests done can include blood tests to check electrolytes and liver function and
an imaging study of the brain (CAT
scan or MRI).
If seizures happen, they'll be treated with medicines. Some kids might need breathing
help from a breathing machine or respirator if their breathing gets too slow or ineffective.
The outlook for children with Reye syndrome has improved thanks to earlier diagnosis
and better treatment. If the late stages of the syndrome happen, they can cause brain
damage, disability, or death.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Call your doctor or get medical help right away if your child:
is vomiting a lot
has behavioral changes
is much sleepier than usual
This is even more important if your child has had a recent viral illness, such
as the flu or a cold.
Of course, many kids with viruses will have some of these symptoms, and most will
not have Reye syndrome. But it's best to be sure because early diagnosis is the key
to successful treatment of Reye syndrome.
How Can Parents Help Prevent Reye Syndrome?
Never use aspirin or other drugs from the salicylate (suh-LISS-uh-late)
family to treat chickenpox, the flu, or any other viral diseases. Many over-the-counter
(OTC) medicines contain salicylates, including bismuth subsalicylate (for instance,
Pepto-Bismol). Be sure to read the labels and talk to your health care provider if
you're not sure whether a medicine is safe for your child.
In general, kids and teens should not take aspirin (salicylates) except
on the advice of a doctor for certain conditions.