British Lung Foundation
34,285 members41,676 posts

Can small (but frequent) doses of codeine cause asthma to become COPD ?

Hi everyone,

Over a period of many years, I've had regular bouts of severe migraine which have been relieved only by taking Paracetal and Codeine in tablet form (over the Pharmacy counter). My asthma has been slowly worsening over the past 2 years.

After a recent bad spell with a severe and hard to shift chest infection, treated with 3 doses of antibiotics and 2 doses of Prednisolone, later followed by another chest infection (requiring just 1 course) I'm taking Simbicort 400mcg regularly and now also Singular - and am about to have my first ever spirometry on Friday, for which I should get the results then along with finding out the result of a chest x-ray.

I know codeine is a breathing suppressant, and try as hard as can to treat my migraines with natural remedies, but sometimes there's no alternative.

I'm worried that it's caused my asthma, which started mildly in my late teens after working for a year with a chain smoker (in the 1980's), as I'd never smoked or been exposed to smoke, has now become COPD as I'm breathless most of the time, and find it hard to cope with climbing stairs.

I would appreciate your feedback on my concerns.



The ability to reply to this post has been turned off.
13 Replies

I personally cannot help. I would advise you to ring BLF 03000030555 who are very helpful. I should welcome you to this site, Julia. You will find us very friendly.

An odd one to ask, and a question I've not seen before. Codeine is used as pain relief in some COPD patients, if there were any links to suggest this was a potential cause of COPD I'm sure I would have heard about it and general advice would have been given not to use it.

You should not have prolonged use of codeine or co-codamol without medical advice, especially if you have breathing problems like asthma or COPD, you are right on that one.

It is quite possible that an early diagnosis of Asthma was incorrect or that you have both Asthma and COPD. Only a doctor or consultant can really help with that. I had pneumonia 19 years ago, I was treated for asthma for years, with inhalers and all that. 14 years later I was diagnosed with COPD, as my condition had been getting worse.

A chest x-ray isn't going to tell a GP if you have COPD or not, they tend to do that to dismiss other possibilities. The spirometry test will be a better indicator. It may be that they won't tell you for certain without a second spirometry test or a referral to a consultant.

Call the BLF and speak to one of their specialists for peace of mind. COPD can be caused by many things, smoking is one of the major factors that is so easy for everyone to point the finger at.

Migraines are better treated with caffeine based remedies rather than codeine as you may be unwittingly taking it and causing rebound headaches (a common occurrence). Although it does suppress breathing it would not cause either asthma or COPD but shouldn't be taken on a regular basis without the express instruction of a GP or consultant.

Hope this helps,


COPDer and regular Co-codamol taker (prescription)

Codine as never under gone any uk trials ... Was reading story while back ... As i have back problems so was using max recomended dose ... How many was you taking

There is usa research on long term use ... As i was having a spat with IIDB and ATOS regarding meds making me worse

Where a pointed out that most prople on long term use of codine end up having heart proplems ... That was backed up by BMJ a would say its posable

As codine is a man mad opiate ... Like that your local creaked head uses ... And it has link to heart problems ... Is posable as heart problems can cause lung problems

This post is ABOUT what i know about codine ... I was taking for my back injury

All the best hope that helps

Hello and welcome Julia.

I have asthma and COPD and also a spinal cord injury for which I take both morphine and codeine for. I have been on both of these for over 5 years, along with other long acting pain meds.

I have had no trouble with either drug at all. However that's just me. We are all different of course. I would doubt very much that codeine would actually cause asthma.

If you're still having bad migraines ( I used to suffer from them badly ) ask to be referred to your nearest pain clinic. I had a very quick procedure done where cortosteroids were injected into my scalp. That was about 6/7 years ago and in that time I've only had one migraine.

I hope that helps!

Good luck


Thank you all for your responses. I had no idea my question would provide so many replies within a few hours.

Just to clarify I don't take codeine containing medication continually, but when my migraines disrupt my life and can't be shifted with natural remedies, my favourite ones being a cold pack on my forehead/eyes and/or rest and relaxation. However I would say that some weeks I'll take 1 for a few of the days and occasionally have to up it to 2. Each tablet contains 8mg.

I was given a painkiller containing a whopping 30mg of codeine for dental pain following a tooth extraction. I had no idea it had that much when I started taking it (but I was un unbearable pain so not thinking clearly!). After a few days, my breathing became very bad and I realised what the problem was. I since mentioned it to my GP who deided to put a note on my file to say I'm allergic to codeine so this doesn't happen again.

I had no idea that codeine was given for pain relief to some COPD patients. I asked my local phatmacist about my lungs reaction to codeine, and he pointed out that it's hardly surprising as it's a breathing suppressant (used in many cough remedies). I'd only ever been warned against ibuprofen which doesn't affect my lungs at all.

I've always wondered what role heart problems play in my breathing problems, so the suggestion that codeine could cause such is intruging especially as my mum suffered heart failure a few years ago (she has a pacemaker/defibrilator). Her initial symptom was breathlessness.

I'm aware the x-ray is just to rule out cancer and presumably TB and it's the spirometry that is the diagnostic tool. Glad to hear they'd re-test if positive.

I've never considered caffeine based remedies as high doses make my heart race.

I'm now on the third day of taking Singular tablets, and my breathing seems to be a little easier, so perhaps this suggests I do have asthma rather than COPD. In any event it's good news as I'm less anxious.

Love to hear your further responses.


Hi Julia,

I too have back probs. like some of the others and regularly take Co-codamol x 8 daily of the 30mg/500mg(paracetamol) and my GP is a lung specialist - he prescribed them. I've occasionally had oral morphine too without problems.

I would suggest that from what you described you were suffering from an allergic reaction to it not necessarily asthma.

Do be careful as allergic reactions (anaphylactic shock) can kill quickly if not treated.

I also have Singulair and find them invaluable, I certainly know if I miss a dose as I get wheezy very quickly. I can miss out inhalers for a few days, when I'm feeling reasonably OK, but if I don't take the montelukaust I wake up short of breath.

According to my GP I have both Asthma and COPD, which makes it difficult for them to separate treatment. Some inhalers I've had all along and some have been changed. I was not given Singular until after being diagnosed with COPD though, despite them being mainly for the treatment of asthma...

Not all GP's do a second spiro test, I was quickly referred to a consultant, so it was the hospital who did another. The hospital ones are always a lower reading than at my GP's, maybe because I am usually better rested at the surgery, whereas you're sent from room to room at the hospital to be weighed first and all that.

One thing I do advise, don't believe some of the websites people link to on here. Many are American, sponsored by the drug companies to give biased reports or are sheer scare stories. The general consensus is to stick to the BLF and NHS ones for reliable info ;)

1 like

On Issue Caffeine Will Cause Heart Problems Decaf ..... Apparently It Sucks Depletes Vitamin D Out Of You And Its That Causes Heart Speed Wobbles

A Can't Understand Why My GP Still Prescribes These To Me Give My Lung Condition On Issue Of Codeine And Co Codamol Heres Link

And Or

Great Post Raised Lots Of Intresting Subjects

Cheers All The Best :)

Decaf Is Is Recommended ...... If You Have Problems :)

Just one comment on codeine which is not really relevent, I understood it is bad for long term pain releif as it can cause kidney damage.

Hi everyone,

It's now over a week since I had the chest x-ray and I'm still waiting for the result (but I know that in 99% of cases it comes back clear).

I had a spirometry test done by the nurse at my GP Practice last Friday. I was just asked to blow 3 times into this tiny machine which looked like a mini peak flow meter with a pocket computer attached to it ! Unfortunately, she says the results have to be given by my GP so I have to wait for an appointment later next week.

However, he did comment on the fact that my breath ended abruptly. After the test she did tell me that my "lung age" was 66. I'd been told it was an "American gimmick" and so wasn't alarmed at all, especially when she told me she'd been given a lung age of 91 !!

I still have good and bad days (yesterday was a bad one and I was sure I must have COPD, however today was pretty good as I was able to exert myself for a period of time without breathlessness). Hopefully each dose of "Singulair" is helping my lungs to improve ..... it's been about 10 days now.

I manage to avoid taking the tablets containing a small amount of codeine most days, and even when I do have a bad day manage to restrict myself to taking just one - never two. I know others are able to take 8mg, or even much more without a detrimental effect on their lungs.

However, my lungs hate codeine with a vengeance ..... almost as much as they hate a whiff of cigarette smoke, even from a distance !!

I'd welcome any feedback on my update.

Kind regards,


I would say codeine causes breathing and lung problems, i was given codeine for a bad cough when i had a throat infection, because codeine is a cough suppressant it would stop you coughing and loosening the crap off your chest if it was used over a long period. Not getting the crap off your chest would cause problems i imagine.

The ability to reply to this post has been turned off.

You may also like...