A New Risk of Using Antibiotics in Children

At one time, doctors freely prescribed antibiotics for maladies as insignificant as a cold. But doctors no longer hand out antibiotic prescriptions so freely now that there’s more awareness of the overuse of antibiotics and its dangers.

One study even showed that antibiotics increase the risk of breast cancer in women, although this hasn’t been definitely proven. At the very least, antibiotics cause side-effects, some of them serious, and they fuel the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. What about antibiotics in children? A new study highlights a new risk of giving antibiotics to children early in life.

Do antibiotics increase the risk of allergy and asthma?

According to a new study conducted by Yale and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, using antibiotics in children under six months of age could increase their risk of childhood asthma and allergies.

When investigators studied kids who had taken antibiotics during the first six months of life, they found these children had an increased risk of asthma at age six, and the risk was even greater in kids who had no family history of the disease. They were also more likely to have a positive skin test for allergies. The risk was higher in kids who took broad-spectrum antibiotics, some of the most commonly prescribed, because they cover a wide range of bacteria.

Are antibiotics in children really associated with asthma and allergies? This study did have limitations. For one, moms were asked to remember at what age their kids took antibiotics. This type of reporting is prone to inaccuracies. They also didn’t have full details on the type of antibiotics the kids took. Still, the results bear closer scrutiny.

Why would antibiotics increase the risk of allergy and asthma?

The researchers in this study believe that antibiotics may alter the immune response in a way that increases a child’s susceptibility to asthma and allergies. They may do this by altering good bacteria in the gut that keep the immune system in check.

The bottom line?

Antibiotics are not without risks and side-effects. On the other hand, there are situations where an antibiotic may be necessary. The key is to question why a child is receiving an antibiotic before blindly filling the prescription. Some doctors prescribe antibiotics for conditions that may not be bacterial in nature. Be an informed patient, and ask lots of questions when your doctor hands you an antibiotic prescription.

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