Antibiotic Use and Childhood Asthma

Pediatricians have cautioned parents about taking antibiotics, and giving their children antibiotics, without a true medical need. Now a study appearing online in the journal Pediatrics, suggests that infants who take antibiotics during the first year of life may be at a slightly increased risk of developing asthma by age 18. In a separate analysis, the children of women who took antibiotics during pregnancy were nearly 25% more likely to have asthma compared to mothers who did not take the drug.

Asthma can be a life threatening condition. Nine million children under age 18 in the U.S. have asthma, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Here’s how the study was conducted. Researchers gathered data from 22 previous studies between 1950 and 2010. Two of the 22 studies looked at antibiotic exposure during pregnancy while 19 studies evaluated antibiotic exposure during the first year of life. One study assessed antibiotic exposure during both time periods.

Other studies have shown that infants who receive antibiotics are at an increased risk for developing asthma by age 7, and the more courses of the drug given that first year, the greater the risk.

This review analyzed the results of studies using over 600,000 participants. It also grouped studies according to design type to see how the results were affected. When all 20 studies were grouped together, researchers found that infants who took antibiotics during their first year of life were about 50% more likely than babies who never received the drugs to be diagnosed with asthma.

Researchers also analyzed studies where children who were treated with antibiotics for respiratory infections, were removed.  The respiratory infections skewed the overall results because of the possibility that the infections themselves might be a precursor to asthma. In studies that adjusted for these respiratory infections, a child who took antibiotics was 13% more likely to be diagnosed with asthma than a child who never took the medication.

The researchers say they are not suggesting that early antibiotic exposure causes childhood asthma, but that even a slight increase in risk may be a good enough reason to avoid the unnecessary use of antibiotics during pregnancy and the first year of life.

Food Allergies and Childhood Asthma

Infants and toddlers often have some type of food allergy, while teens and adults are more prone to dust, ragweed and mold allergies according to U.S. researchers.

A preliminary release of the Quest Diagnostics Health Trends Report, Allergies Across America, is based on laboratory testing from more than 2 million U.S. patient visits. In this report the findings reveal a pattern of allergen sensitivity consistent with the "allergy march," a medical condition by which allergies to foods in early childhood heighten the risk for the development of additional and more severe allergy-related conditions - including asthma- later in life.

"Allergy and asthma often go hand in hand, and the development of asthma is often linked to allergies in childhood via the allergy march," Study investigator Dr. Harvey W. Kaufman says in a statement. "Given the growing incidence of asthma in the United States, our study underscores the need for clinicians to evaluate and treat patients, particularly young children, suspected of having food allergies in order to minimize the prospect that more severe allergic conditions and asthma will develop with age."

The most common foods responsible for allergic reactions are eggs, cow's milk, peanuts, soya, fish and shellfish in children and peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and fish in adults. Substances that are used as food additives and preservatives can also affect individuals.

Although a causal link has not been determined, increased awareness of the heightened risks of having both childhood asthma and allergen sensitivity plus good patient-parent education and management of both conditions, can lead to improved health and medical outcomes.