Prescribing antibiotics to a baby under the age of six months could increase asthma risk by up to 70% according to a study from Yale University.
Asthma is a growing concern in the U.S. where around 23 million people suffer from the chronic disease, which is about 1 in every 13 people. The growth of asthma among children is particularly alarming, and the American Asthma Foundation reports that 13 million school days are missed every year due to childhood asthma.
What Does the Study Show?
The study, which has been published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, followed 1,400 children to determine whether their risk of developing asthma by the age of six was higher than other children if they had been prescribed antibiotics in the first six months of life.
Previous studies have made a link between early antibiotic use and asthma development, but cynics have argued that because infant antibiotics are most commonly prescribed for chest infections and chest related illnesses, they are usually prescribed to the children that are already at a higher risk of developing asthma anyway.
For this reason the researchers were careful to include a large proportion of children in the study who had been prescribed infant antibiotics for conditions that were in no way related to the chest. They were also careful to include children who did not have a family history of asthma, as this has also been cited as a factor.
Despite this, the results of the study still indicated that children who are prescribed antibiotics before they are six months have a much higher risk of developing asthma by the time they are six:
- Children who were prescribed one course of infant antibiotics had a 40% higher risk
- Children who were prescribed two courses of infant antibiotics had a 70% higher risk
How do Antibiotics Increase Asthma Risk?
Researchers suggest that the use of antibiotics in the first six months of a baby’s life could disturb the balance of microbes in the digestive system that are vital for a healthy immune system and allergic response.
Lead researcher Dr Kari Risnes urges doctors not to give antibiotics to very young babies if it can possibly be avoided, saying that;
“Very early microbial exposure, particularly in the intestinal tract, seems necessary for a mature and balanced immune system in childhood. Antibiotic use, especially broad spectrum antibiotics, may alter microbial flora in the gut, thereby causing imbalances in the immune system and a poor allergic response. The findings from our study should encourage doctors to avoid unnecessary antibiotic use, especially in low-risk children.”
Other Risk Factors for Childhood Asthma
Although there is no single identifiable cause of asthma in children, a number of risk factors have been identified. Here are six factors that may put a child at a higher risk of developing this condition:
- A family history of asthma or related allergic conditions
- Developing another allergic condition themselves, such as a food allergy
- Experiencing a lung infection, such as bronchitis, as a child
- Being exposed to tobacco smoke during pregnancy and childhood
- Premature birth, especially if a ventilator was required
- Having a low birth weight of under 4.5 pounds