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Antibiotics Linked to Allergies and Asthma

A study conducted at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit has linked antibiotics to allergies and asthma in children. Children who received antibiotics within their first six months were at an increased risk of developing asthma and allergies by the age of seven.

448 children were followed from birth to seven years; the children were divided by gender into even groups.

Researchers collected data about all prescribed oral antibiotics; blood tests that measures immunoglobulin E (the antibody that causes allergies); skin reaction tests that determines if a person is hypersensitive to an allergen, and on all clinical visits. Researchers also collected environmental samples from the homes of the children.

The data was collected before birth and then at the first four birthdays. Each child was then evaluated at 6 to 7-years-old by a certified allergist.

Forty-nine percent of the children had received antibiotics by the age of six-months; the most commonly prescribed antibiotic was penicillin. Other finding included:

  • Children who received antibiotics by six months old were 1.5 times more likely to develop allergies by age seven than children who did not receive antibiotics, and 2.5 times more likely to develop asthma.
  • Children who lived with less than two pets by the age of six months given at least one antibiotic were 1.7 times more likely to develop allergies and three times more likely to develop asthma.
  • Children whose mothers had a history of allergies were twice as likely to develop allergies. Those who were breast-fed more than four months, and received antibiotics by six months were three times as likely to develop allergies; the risk of asthma was not influenced by breast feeding and antibiotics.

According to Christine Cole Johnson, PhD, lead author of the study and senior epidemiologist for Henry Ford’s Department of Biostatistics and Research Epidemiology, “…we need to be more prudent in prescribing antibiotics for children at such an early age. In the past, many of them were prescribed unnecessarily, especially for viral infections like colds and the flu when the antibiotics would have no effect anyway.”

SOURCE: Henry Ford Health System press release, Science Daily, October 1, 2003; WCA News,
www.wcanews.com, October 2003; www.newscientist.com, September 30, 2003; BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk.