Reye's Syndrome in Kids: Reasons, Symptoms & Treatment

Reye’s Syndrome in Children: Causes, Signs & Prevention

Reye’s syndrome is a rare disease that affects many children every year. It is important to understand the causes and symptoms of Reye’s so that you can understand it and the risks it poses to your child.

What is Reye’s Syndrome?

Reye’s syndrome is a rare but severe illness that can lead to brain swelling and damage to the liver and organs. Increased swelling of the brain can cause pressure inside the head which can lead to long-term damage to the nervous system of the child, and liver swelling will frequently lead to liver dysfunction, which can also have long-term complications. Reye’s syndrome is often signalled by the sudden onset of symptoms and is most common in children between the ages of 4 and 12.

The Connection Between Reye’s Syndrome and Aspirin

While it is not known precisely what brings about Reye’s syndrome, its causes are frequently debated. Some studies have shown a link between Reye’s syndrome and taking aspirin; more specifically, children who have taken aspirin while having a viral illness, or shortly after having a viral illness.

For these reasons, it is recommended not to give aspirin to a child under 19 years of age unless instructed to do so by a qualified physician. While the exact links between Reye and aspirin are still debated, nearly all doctors will recommend not giving aspirin to children who have recently gone through a viral illness.

child taking aspirin

Possible Complications of Reyes Syndrome in Children

Without early treatment, rapid progression of symptoms from Reye’s can lead to permanent brain damage or damage to the liver. While the disease is rarely fatal, fatality is possible if the symptoms of the illness go untreated.

Some of the possible complications of Reye’s syndrome include:

  • Coma
  • Brain damage
  • Liver dysfunction
  • Death

Signs and Symptoms – Reyes Syndrome in Kids

Usually, Reye’s syndrome will begin when the blood sugar level of a child drops at the same time that the levels of ammonia and acidity in the blood rise. During this time, the liver may swell as well, and this is typically when swelling begins in the brain as well, sometimes causing convulsions, loss of consciousness or seizures. Children under the age of two will often have these symptoms accompanied by diarrhoea or rapid breathing.

Other signs and symptoms of the onset of Reye’s in children include:

  • Vomiting (continuous or persistent)
  • Tiredness and lethargy
  • Lack of consciousness
  • Irritability or irrationality
  • Increased aggression
  • Seizures
  • Confusion or disorientation (sometimes with hallucinations)

unconcious child

How Is Diagnosis Done?

Early diagnosis of Reye’s syndrome is important to save the life of the child. If you suspect your child might have Reye’s, you should take them to the hospital. Diagnosis is a clinical process and involves evaluating your child for the following:

  • Brain dysfunction (encephalopathy)
  • Liver dysfunction
  • A history of recent viral infection or aspirin use
  • Liver enzymes and ammonia levels
  • Other instances of metabolic disorders

The following procedures are typically used to diagnose Reye’s syndrome in a child:

  • Liver biopsy
  • Urine and stool tests
  • MRI
  • Spinal tap
  • Intracranial pressure monitoring (ICP)
  • Blood tests
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)

Reye’s Syndrome Treatment

Early treatment is necessary to treat Reye’s syndrome because of the sudden onset nature of its symptoms. This will usually involve hospitalisation, and in some more serious cases of the illness, children will be forced to go to the intensive care unit (ICU).

Since Reye’s is all about prevention, there is no exact “cure”. Treatment is supportive and focused on reducing symptoms and complications. During treatment, you should ensure your child remains hydrated and maintains a balance of electrolytes, as well as have your doctor monitor their heart, lungs and liver functioning. Children with seizures should be given the appropriate types of medications to control the complications of those symptoms.

Reye's Syndrome Treatment


As mentioned before, all parents should exercise caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. While the drug has been approved for children over the age of 2, it should never be given to children recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms. Also, avoid any other types or brands of pain medications that might include aspirin too. Make sure to also read up on some of the other common names of aspirin to make sure your child does not accidentally take the drug.

While the exact causes of the illness are still unknown, it is now widely thought that some children might be at higher risk from the disease than others. Children at greater risk include those with fatty acid oxidation disorders. Some hospitals will conduct newborn screenings for this, and it should be available upon request if you check with your medical provider.

When to Call the doctor?

You should seek emergency medical help if your child is experiencing seizures, convulsions, or a loss of consciousness. If they are exhibiting any of the other symptoms of Reye’s syndrome after an illness – such as vomiting, tiredness, behavioural changes, or lethargy – it is also recommended that you seek medical help as soon as possible.

Reye’s syndrome is a rare illness affecting children, likely the result of taking aspirin during a viral illness or while recovering from a viral illness Because of the serious nature of the illness and its sudden nature, it can have many side-effects if not treated early and immediately, and many children will never recover fully. Great care should be taken by parents to detect symptoms early and consult a doctor as soon as possible if symptoms emerge.

Also Read: Viral Fever in Children – Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

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